Community assessment is foundational in a grantee’s program planning process and can be part of a risk mitigation strategy to improve program quality and competitiveness. Information gathered through the community assessment process provides context for determining community needs and whether the program is meeting those needs. It will determine if there are changes in the community and will inform a program’s self-assessment. Here, we present three guiding principles to improve your program’s community assessment.
1. Use a well-defined process to determine community need. Whether conducting a comprehensive community assessment or an annual update, following a well-defined process and gathering high-quality data will support usefulness and, ultimately, program quality. Consider the ways your program may use community assessment data: in its annual non-competitive baseline or continuation application, as part of competitive grant funding applications, and to inform program design planning and service delivery to name a few.
Make sure that your community assessment covers the areas required by Head Start Program Performance Standards (HSPPS). Because HSPPS community assessment requirements are broad, we recommend you start with a detailed outline of what you want to cover through the process. Leverage available resources to align your detail with performance standard requirements. By doing so, you will also be collecting the data your program will need for Office of Head Start funding opportunities (e.g., baseline application, DRS).
2. Look not only at point-in-time data, but also trends over time. Some of the most valuable information that may emerge from a program’s community assessment is related to trends. Programs can monitor data and highlight patterns that arise over time (e.g., increase in families experiencing homelessness). This can then be used to improve service delivery as well as identify opportunities for new partnerships to meet changing needs.
Further, there are many lenses through which one may conduct a community assessment, and collecting and analyzing data through an equity lens may help to uncover disparities that can begin to be addressed through program services. For example, with an enhanced look at student outcomes (e.g., 3rd grade reading or high school graduation by race, ethnicity, or income) the community assessment may yield data that highlights areas where the Head Start/Early Head Start program can be part of a continuum of support for children and families.
3. Ask questions about how the program is meeting community needs, including during events of major impact. The role of community assessment in determining whether a program is meeting community needs is critical. As your program moves through its program planning process and into self-assessment, keep the issues identified in the community assessment at the forefront. Consider, what community challenges emerged that may need further attention or exploration?
In any given year, there may be a single event (e.g., hurricane) or ongoing situation that has a major impact on communities. The COVID-19 pandemic is one pressing and widespread example. These situations can cause community needs to change rapidly. Maintain a regular schedule of high-quality data collection and analysis to support your program’s ability to understand and respond to community needs.
Foundations for Families’ Consulting Services include comprehensive community assessment, updates, and enhancements. Services are customized to meet the unique needs of each program, and our team of consultants is highly-skilled at implementing services remotely. If your program is interested to learn more about our services, please contact us.
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