Families and Funding
This past week I had the privilege of attending two Head Start conferences that exposed me to the larger Head Start community. Before last week I only knew Head Start from the perspective of my program. First, I should explain that although Head Start is an educational program for three to five year olds, it is also a program that creates opportunities for families. Each family is assigned a family service associate who is responsible for making sure a child has the support they need to be successful, and a large part of that involves making sure the family has the resources they need. Services range from nutrition and health education to parenting classes to supporting a parent in accomplishing their goal of completing school. There is a culture and a community built into Head Start that extends beyond the support for families to the program itself. In a session on succession planning, the facilitator stated that people need to believe in what they do in order to be successful, and Head Start directors and staff are clearly driven by the passion they feel about the work that they do.
The conference was fascinating as it allowed me to gain a comprehensive understanding of why I am doing the self-assessment, which is an internal review to determine whether we comply with all the policies and procedures. Let me back up and mention the Head Start grant cycle is changing. The old model was a system of indefinite grant periods with annual renewals that a few people have mentioned were fairly routine – you would send in your renewal grant, be surprised if it got read, and get awarded another year of funding. Then, every three years a federally designated review team would come in and spend a week checking to make sure the program is complying with all policies. The Office of Head Start is in the process of switching to a 5 year grant cycle, and it is more competitive. Now, each agency has to submit a grant every 5 years that includes a section on long and short term goals. Additionally, there are certain findings during reviews that can enter your agency into automatic recompetition, which means your designated service area will be open to other groups to compete for the Head Start funding. The self-assessment is conducted as a means to determine whether or not an agency is complying with rules and policies before the federal review team comes in. It is an opportunity for growth as it not only requires plans to be made to address non-compliance, but it also asks for system-level suggestions to improve or sustain the quality of work. Now I understand that the self-assessment is ultimately about minimizing the risk and reducing the possibility of losing grant funding.
At the conference I saw that the people running Head Start programs are supportive of each other and they want each other to succeed, which ultimately helps the program grow and gain support at the state and federal levels. Head Start is not just a program, it is a community of people who want to be successful because they believe in success of the program model. However, the process for recompetition opens up the opportunity for agencies to expand, so I am curious to see if this policy change also results in a cultural shift around the attitude of support and sharing that is prevalent within the Head Start community.