Disability Services Coordinator Orientation Guide

Improving Your Program’s Coordinated Approach

"To support inclusion, you need to ask two basic questions: 'How is my program doing?' and 'How can we improve?'" – Head Start program director

This chapter focuses on strategies your program can use to strengthen its coordinated approach for children with disabilities1 and their families. As the disability services coordinator, one of your tasks is to collect information and assess the disability services being implemented. One way you do this is through ongoing monitoring. Sometimes this isn't a formal process; rather, you gather information as you interact daily with children, families, staff, and community partners. Sometimes you rely on systematic data collection methods to provide useful information. You also participate in the annual program-wide self-assessment. The information that you and others collect is used to improve your program's coordinated approach for children with disabilities and their families.

Key Ideas

  • Ongoing monitoring helps identify immediate, timely improvements for disability services.
  • The annual program self-assessment informs continuous improvement of the coordinated approach.
  • Decisions are data-driven.
  • Planning and goal-setting are intentional.
  • Families, staff, and community partners participate in continuous program improvement efforts.
  • Continuous improvement includes strengthening the cultural and linguistic responsiveness of systems and services for children with disabilities and their families.

What are the requirements for continuous program improvement in Head Start programs?

The HSPPS at 45 CFR §1302 Subpart J – Program Management and Quality Improvement state the requirements for a Head Start program related to ongoing monitoring and continuous program improvement. A program is required to implement a sound management system. It must provide fiscal and human resource management and oversight so staff can effectively deliver services. These efforts include regular and ongoing supervision to support staff and continuous program improvement. The management system also designs and implements coordinated approaches in training and professional development, participation of children who are DLLs, participation of children with disabilities, and the management of program data.

A program must establish goals and measurable objectives, including strategic long-term goals, goals in service areas, school readiness goals, and effective health and safety practices. An oversight system is required to monitor compliance with the HSPPS and track progress toward program goals on an ongoing basis and annually. To this end, a program must conduct an annual self-assessment that uses program data.

HSPPS Related to Continuous Improvement

A program uses many kinds of data in a self-assessment, including information on professional development activities, family engagement systems, and aggregated child assessment data. As appropriate, information on children with disabilities is also included. Program staff, parents and families, the governing body, and the Policy Council participate in the program self-assessment. To identify program needs and develop improvement plans, a program must use information from:

  • Ongoing monitoring
  • The annual self-assessment
  • Other sources of program data on:
    • Teaching practices
    • Staffing and professional development
    • Child-level assessments
    • Family needs assessments
    • Comprehensive services

The HSPPS state that programs can use improvement plans to strengthen or adjust professional development, service delivery, and program goals and to address the needs of sub-groups, such as children with disabilities.

A program must submit status reports to the governing body and Policy Council twice a year. Findings of the self-assessment are submitted to the program's HHS official. An annual report must be disseminated by the program that includes a summary of the recent community assessment.

Planning for Partnerships

You work closely with program managers and other staff to gather reliable and complete information from community partners.

  • Describe a process for collecting information about the successes and challenges of the partnerships.
  • Gather information on a regular, ongoing basis and annually.
  • Include a process for recommending improvements in the partnerships.

Little girl paintingWhat is your role in ongoing monitoring?

You've heard the word "ongoing" many times—ongoing child assessment, ongoing supervision, ongoing support for children with disabilities and their families.

The word "ongoing" appears in another important context. Your program relies on ongoing monitoring to measure program performance, identify areas of concern, make immediate program corrections, and generate reports. The program directors must ensure the ongoing monitoring system operates effectively. Managers are responsible for ongoing monitoring in their service or system area.

As the disability services coordinator, you monitor staff's implementation and coordination of disability services. You are the eyes and ears of young children with disabilities or delays and their families. Are they able to participate fully and effectively in program activities? If you're not sure how to conduct ongoing monitoring, talk with your supervisor or the program director. Most likely, you are doing ongoing monitoring already as you engage with all aspects of the disability services.

How do you collect ongoing monitoring data?

You interact with staff, families and children, partners, and others as you go about your workday. You have conversations, go to meetings, and observe, which helps you keep your finger on the pulse. These activities feed into the ongoing monitoring of the disability services.

As you work with education and health managers, as well as teaching staff, you'll get a sense of how they are meeting the individual needs of children with disabilities and special healthcare issues. As you visit classrooms, home settings, and socialization spaces, see for yourself how effectively staff implement individualized teaching and learning practices.

Turn to specific data sources, too. Use the results from screening and diagnostic evaluations to assess adaptations specified by an IFSP, IEP, Section 504 Plan, Child Action Plan, or health plan. Monitor how effectively and accurately staff implement these adaptations.

Staff collect and aggregate child-level assessment data three times a year for all children, but you focus on children with disabilities. This information tracks children's progress toward their learning goals. Other sources of data about children with disabilities include the Program Information Report (PIR), attendance reports, and health data. For programs operating fewer than 90 days, child assessment data are aggregated and analyzed at least twice during the program operating period.

Keep abreast of your program's inclusive practices. The Inclusion Classroom Profile (ICP™) helps education staff assess the learning environment and tailor professional development to specific needs (see Chapter VII). Several checklists and observational instruments can provide information about the learning environment (not specific to inclusive environments). Working with the education staff, consider the ECERS for preschool classrooms, the ITERS for center-based programs, and the FCCERS.

Using the ongoing monitoring and other data, refer back to the House Framework. Are all the elements of the house stable and secure—the foundation, the pillars, the roof? How are the parents and families doing at the center of the house?

The professional development needs assessment feeds into your ongoing monitoring. Are staff asking for support in their work with children with disabilities and their families? What kind of support? As a result of training, do staff demonstrate improved practices? Teachers, home visitors, coaches, and education managers can give you feedback about the effect of training as they work with children with disabilities.

Regularly collect information from families about the effectiveness of disability services. Your partnership with families during the referral and evaluation process, or the IFSP or IEP review, is an opportunity to hear about their concerns and recommendations. Turn to family service workers for useful information, too.

Because you work with many community partners, you can ask them for feedback. What's working well in the interagency MOU? Where are the challenges? The tracking forms for screening, referral, and evaluation can give useful data about the numbers of children, the deadlines, and the outcomes (see Appendix B).

If your program enrolls children who are DLLs, the Dual Language Learners Program Assessment (DLLPA) provides information for planning and goal setting. Be sure to look at the results about DLLs with disabilities and special healthcare needs, staffing, curriculum implementation, and other program services and systems.

What do you do with the ongoing monitoring data?

As you monitor the disability services, you're gathering information about what's working well, what isn't, and how to make things better. The ongoing monitoring process can lead to timely improvements in service delivery.

For example, after a meeting with parents and family or having a conversation with colleagues, you may understand the challenges the family is facing. You'll likely come away with ideas about how to address these obstacles. Maybe all it takes is a phone call, an email, or a follow-up meeting. The corrective actions derived from ongoing monitoring are often immediate and targeted. They are more of a quick fix than a long-term, program-wide solution, which is associated with the program self-assessment.

With your disability services team or other staff, ask questions that lead to dialogue. What are the strengths and challenges of disability services? What do different groups of respondents say? Do we need other or new data to collect and monitor? How we can build on our successes?

Regularly communicate with your supervisor and the program leaders about what the ongoing monitoring data tell you about disability services. They can help you troubleshoot, if necessary.

No Head Start program is stagnant. Positive change is data-based, planned, and intentional. Your goal is to improve program operations and service delivery for children with disabilities and their families.

What is your role in the annual program self-assessment?

Program leaders work with a team to plan and implement the annual self-assessment. They are responsible for collecting and analyzing data from the ongoing monitoring of all systems, services, goals, and objectives. Based on the program-wide data collected, the team plans how to improve program systems and services and revise and update the program goals—including school readiness goals—for all children.

Data from multiple service and system areas feeds into the annual assessment of the coordinated approach for children with disabilities and their families. Think back to the chapters in this guide that touch on many program aspects—community partnerships, ERSEA, screening and referral, individualizing and curriculum, health and safety, transitions, and professional development. Other program systems also support the coordinated approach—fiscal, facilities, HR, and data management. Working together, you and the team aggregate and analyze data from ongoing monitoring and other sources to provide a robust picture of the coordinated approach.

The goal of the self-assessment is to strengthen your program's systems and services. You and the team can identify action steps based on the data that will improve your program's coordinated approach for children with disabilities and their families. See Appendix F for an assessment and planning matrix for a coordinated approach. Because the coordinated approach cuts across multiple systems and services, changes may involve staff, partners, and families. Clear communication will ensure everyone hears a consistent message.

Learn more about the connection between planning, ongoing monitoring, and program self-assessment.

Head Start Management Systems Wheel

The Head Start Management Systems Wheel is a useful tool to ensure that all systems and services are part of the program self-assessment.

While conducting the program self-assessment, your own action steps might emerge. What do you, as the disability services lead, need to do to improve the coordinated approach? Do you need to work more closely and effectively with a manager of a system or service area? Are there professional development options to support your growth?

The annual program self-assessment is a big undertaking, but the benefits are great:

  • Improved systems and quality services that support children and families
  • Revised program goals that reflect the needs of the children, families, and community

Your role is to ensure children with disabilities and their families experience these benefits.

Tips for Continuous Improvement of the Coordinated Approach

  • Learn about the instruments and tools to assess inclusive environments. Talk to your early intervention and special education partners and other disability services coordinators.
  • Value data. Learn more about how data can show patterns and trends you can use to improve services to children with disabilities and their families.
  • Review information already collected by the program. Consider the community assessment, PIR, child-level assessment, and observational data, professional needs surveys, and other program data.
  • Seek feedback from parents and community partners. Ask them to share both the challenges and successes of your program's disability services. Ask for their recommendations.
  • Work with program management. Review budgets, personnel policies, professional development plans, and facilities management that affect services to children with suspected or identified disabilities.
  • Stay open-minded. Learn from the process and be open to changes.
  • Remember the purpose of the program self-assessment. Accept that there is always room for improvement. Change is inevitable.

People to Help You

  • Program managers in all system and service areas, including:
    • Data managers
    • Transportation managers
    • ERSEA managers
  • Direct service staff who work with children with disabilities and their families
  • Early intervention specialists and special educators from LEA
  • Community partners
  • Families

Questions to Ask Your Colleagues

  • What are the strengths of our inclusive approach?
  • What support do we need to improve inclusive learning environments?
  • What internal support do we provide for inclusive services (e.g., professional development, coaching, mental health consultation)? What external support do we use (e.g., joint training, in-class or home visits with special education partners)?
  • Do we have effective processes in place at the micro level to review our ongoing, regular work with children with disabilities and their families?
  • Do we have effective processes in place at the systematic, program, or macro level to ensure we are getting a true picture of our coordinated approach?
  • How do our data about disability services feed into program planning and goal-setting?


Families walking with their childrenThe Mountain Lakes Head Start and Early Head Start Program is preparing their annual self-assessment and collecting data from many sources. The disability services coordinator, Janelle, and the health coordinator, Sergio, are reviewing ERSEA information. They disaggregate attendance data by sub-groups, including children with disabilities and medical conditions, and by individual children. Some children have IFSPs or IEPs. Then, the program identifies children who are chronically absent or at risk of missing 10% of the program days. Janelle and Sergio discover that 90% of the children with asthma are absent frequently. They know the HSPPS require programs to implement strategies to promote attendance, identify the causes of absenteeism, and make changes as part of the continuous improvement efforts.

Working with the management team, they review the community assessment. The city's health department reports that the prevalence of pediatric asthma is rising, as is the number of children receiving medical treatment for asthma. Interviews with hospital staff and medical providers in the community confirm these trends. A multiyear comparison of the PIR data reveals the percentage of children with asthma in their program has steadily increased over the years. This year, it is higher than the national percentage.

Janelle and Sergio work as a team to gather information from a staff survey. Teachers, family child care partners, and Early Head Start home visitors report feeling comfortable implementing healthcare plans. However, the majority are not confident about identifying triggers in their classrooms that might aggravate a child's asthma. Janelle and Sergio survey the families of children with asthma. Many families do not fully understand asthma and want more information in their home languages.

The program analyzes data from all sources and presents them to the governing bodies and the HSAC. They all agree that the program needs to develop a comprehensive asthma approach to maximize all children's learning opportunities and promote their regular attendance. Janelle and Sergio know all too well that when children are absent, they miss out on learning opportunities. In a home-based program, when a child is sick and the home visit is cancelled, the child and the family miss learning experiences, too.

The program adds a new health goal for the next program year: to increase the attendance of children with asthma. Janelle and Sergio will keep attendance figures and look for indications of increased absenteeism. They will contact the parents and family as soon as they notice a child's continued absence in the classroom. They also will keep tabs on missed home visits or group socialization experiences in Early Head Start programs. A quick response will help them problem-solve and, hopefully, return the child to the program.

Kids playing together in classroomThe program also undertakes a multipronged, multiyear plan that strengthens its coordinated approach to ensure the full and effective participation of children with disabilities and medical conditions. This plan crosses many systems and service areas. The primary elements are to:

  • Develop an asthma policy and related procedures that include:
    • Staff training on asthma
    • How to use an asthma-friendly child care checklist
    • How to complete child enrollment/attendance/symptom records for children with asthma
      • Education and facility managers will use checklist data to make facility improvements. The program will bring in budget personnel when needed.
  • Create an interagency MOU with the local hospital to train program staff to educate families about asthma and offer resources in their home languages

The management team, Janelle, and Sergio are eager to implement this program-wide health initiative to improve service delivery to children with asthma and their families. They are sure staff and families will be on board, too.

(Adapted from Topic 4 in Foundations for Excellence: A Guide for Five-Year Planning and Continuous Improvement)

1 In this guide, the term children with disabilities refers also to children with suspected delays unless stated otherwise.