COVID-19 and the Head Start Community

Summer Learning for Children with IEPs and IFSPs

Child reading a poster on the side of a bookcaseSupporting young children and families can be challenging during uncertain times, and even more so for children with disabilities or suspected delays. It can be hard when their routines change and they no longer receive services during a daily school schedule. While distance learning or teletherapy opportunities may provide some consistency and continuity, experiences vary depending on internet access and location. Participation may also vary due to work and family obligations. As programs plan to transition back to more typical operations, explore ways to prepare and welcome children and families.

As a result of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, programs will need to follow the most up-to-date health and safety guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and local health departments. Staff should review CDC and local government websites frequently for any updates.

Staff Wellness Considerations

Maintaining health, safety, and overall well-being is important for Head Start staff and for the children and families in programs. Wellness is particularly important for adults who care for children with underlying medical issues. These children may be more likely to develop additional complications from novel viruses. 

  • Continue to follow all health and safety guidelines.
  • Stay virtually connected with colleagues, friends, and family.
  • Practice mindfulness and deep breathing.
  • Maintain a consistent schedule but be flexible in times of change.
  • Spend time outdoors and plan activities that will break up the monotony of daily routines. Ensure stable groupings do not mix outside.

Programs may transition back to full operation over time. Individual decisions about the return of children with disabilities and delays should be made in consultation with families and service providers, based on child needs.

Remote Service Delivery and Distance Learning

Ongoing communication is critical to keeping parents and families informed about program-related information during stay-at-home mandates. It can serve as a virtual support to help ease the stress of feeling isolated and alone. Parents and families who have a child with a disability may have additional concerns and questions about their child's Individualized Education Programs (IEPs), Individualized Family Service Plans (IFSPs), related services (e.g., speech therapy), and the transition back to the program.

Considerations for Summer Programming

As funding is available and community guidelines are met, some programs will be able to return to more regular operations. Bringing children and families back together after an unexpected, long break will have many benefits. It will allow time for families to connect with each other, provide routines and structure for children, and prepare children and families who are transitioning to kindergarten. This will also provide a time to update health and medical records and other important information families will need for kindergarten registration. 

Transition to Kindergarten

Programs need a collaborative, planned approach to help children successfully transition to kindergarten. This process may look different given the current crisis. Commit to collaborating with the necessary partners to ensure children and families have a positive experience as they approach a new school year.

Meet Your Own Needs

After a period of social distancing, you might have lingering concerns about physical closeness. Follow CDC and local health guidelines. Check the websites frequently since they are updated regularly to stay current. Managers, teachers, and family child care providers will want to stay in contact to ensure everyone understands and follows the most up-to-date health and safety guidelines. It's important to remember that young children need physical touch—holding, comforting, picking up, diapering, feeding—to feel supported and safe. Consider taking measures in addition to standard health and safety practices. For example, you might wear long-sleeved shirts or smocks that you can change throughout the day. Wash yours and children's hands frequently and talk with parents about health and safety practices at home.

For home visitors, be sure to adhere to your program's health and safety procedures while on home visits. Talk with families ahead of time and be responsive to requests they may have, such as removing shoes, wearing a face mask, or meeting outside. Partner with families to prepare children for these changes and calm any fears they may have about the face mask. Explain what it is and how it is keeping their home visitor, themselves, and their family safe from germs. Home visitors should also talk with parents ahead of home visits to consider ways to support language and communication as well as social emotional development. Most importantly, remember to take care of your emotional and physical health and encourage all staff to do the same.