Family Economic Mobility Toolkit

Discussing Program Eligibility and FEM

Some families may be hesitant to discuss their finances and economic mobility goals with Head Start staff because of uncertainty around how changes in family economic mobility affect their child’s eligibility for the program.

Program staff verify eligibility based on the child’s age and the family’s income when a family first applies to the program. Families may feel nervous or unsure about sharing sensitive financial information with the program, so staff should focus on building their relationship from the start, using strength-based attitudes and relationship-based practices.

Once enrolled into the Head Start program, the child remains eligible throughout the duration of the following program year. A child who enters Early Head Start remains in the program for the duration of their participation. If the family wants the child to move from Early Head Start to a Head Start program, then the Head Start program must re-determine eligibility. If the family’s income has increased beyond the eligibility maximum in those years, it is possible the family will no longer be eligible for Head Start services.

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How to Keep Program Eligibility in Mind

The ideas below offer techniques for discussing eligibility alongside family economic mobility. Consider these ideas as you work with individual families, making adjustments to fit each family’s situation.

1. Incorporate family economic mobility into conversations from the start.

Ensure families know that family partnerships and goal-setting are core components of Head Start programs. If families know from the start that they are a part of a two-generational program and that program staff can support them in economic mobility goals, they may be more comfortable approaching conversations.

2. Be transparent about program eligibility.

When a family enrolls in a Head Start program for the first time, explain to them how long they may remain eligible. As you support families on their financial economic mobility journeys, be open and transparent with them about when eligibility will be verified again and about any changes to eligibility they may face.

3. Allow the family to drive family economic mobility goal setting.

Let families lead the goal-setting process. The act of choosing their own direction can contribute greatly to their sense of ownership and motivate them to reach their goal. Goal-setting also presents an important opportunity for staff and families to strengthen their partnership through open, honest, and mutually respectful communication. Learn more about goal setting with families.

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