Eligibility is the first step and a key component in implementing ERSEA services. These strategies and guiding questions will help you identify and enroll children and families with the greatest need, including children in kinship care.
Building from a Strong Foundation
Eligibility services support your program's goal of reaching and maintaining full enrollment. Program leadership and staff receive ongoing training to make sure enrollment practices are consistent and appropriate. Policies and procedures address unique family situations and support the integrity of eligibility determination. Program staff are respectful of all cultures and lifestyles when collecting eligibility data.
Did you know?
Head Start programs serve children and families with the greatest need. The Head Start Program Performance Standards (HSPPS) contain two exceptions that enable programs to serve families above the poverty level (45 CFR §1302.12):
- Programs may offer 10% of funded enrollment slots to children from over-income families who could benefit from Head Start services.
- Under certain circumstances, programs can fill up to 35% of enrollment with children from families with incomes between 100 and 130% of poverty.
Together, these two exceptions allow for up to 45% of enrollment to be allocated to over-income families when reporting requirements are met. However, in 2019, the two exceptions only accounted for 12% of total national enrollment. Only 3% of programs use more than 30% of their total 45% allowance. The HSPPS at 45 CFR §1302.12 outlines additional allowances and requirements for Indian tribes and migrant families. Is your program using this eligibility flexibility to identify and serve families in your community?
Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) recipients, 80% of whom are living under 100% of the poverty level, are categorially eligible for Head Start services. Has your program identified SNAP recipients in your community for Head Start services?
A Systems Perspective
Questions to consider:
How is your program's community assessment data used to recruit eligible children and families? Does this data identify over-income populations that may be eligible for Head Start services?
How does your program incorporate eligibility data into its program planning? How does this data guide the delivery of services that are strategic and responsive?
How does your program's data and evaluation system support the review and analysis of eligibility practices? Who is enrolling? Where are the gaps? How can you improve the process?
How does your program's recordkeeping and reporting system use the Head Start Eligibility Verification Form? How does your program track Head Start eligibility determinations? Are application forms available in multiple languages? Are application forms accessible to people with disabilities?
How does your program's communication system support families who may be fearful of sharing personal information? Does your program communicate through a variety of platforms, like flyers, texts, and social media?
Does your program's training and professional development system provide appropriate ERSEA training for all stakeholders? How are staff trained to conduct culturally and linguistically responsive eligibility interviews?
How does your program's technology and information system make sure staff have the intellectual and analytic capacity to maintain required eligibility documentation?
Planning for Continuous Improvement
Ongoing monitoring ensures all aspects of eligibility determination are working together to achieve and maintain full enrollment. Up-to-date community assessment data sheds light on demographic and societal changes that may impact the eligibility status of children and families. Policies and procedures are reviewed and amended as needed to reflect regulatory changes, and to support staff to make decisions around eligibility determination. Ongoing review of eligibility determination records identifies areas needing improvement. Is the proper documentation on file? Are timelines reasonable? Are materials appropriate for all targeted populations? Leaders can use data to assess staff professional development, make enhancements, and provide necessary support.
Resource Type: Publication
National Centers: Program Management and Fiscal Operations
Last Updated: March 10, 2023