A health manager is part of a community of people devoted to preparing children for success in school and helping families build better lives for themselves and their children. The health manager’s job of working with families and staff to assure children are healthy and safe is best accomplished through program planning, coordination with other service areas, and strong leadership to ensure the program’s systems and services work together effectively. Staff and families, hired consultants, community health and wellness partners, and local, regional, and national specialists can be part of the health team. Understanding who is available and what roles they can play will help the health manager develop strong connections with health champions throughout the program.
Each Head Start program’s health team and staffing structure may look different. Organizational decisions are usually driven by the program’s unique size, resources, goals, and community assessment findings.
The Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation, Administration for Children and Families, highlighted three findings from their 2012-2013 Head Start Health Manager Descriptive Study for Regions I-XII:
- The health manager workforce is diverse in terms of personal characteristics and brings relevant health-related education, training, and professional experience to the job.
- The health manager position is a demanding job with many challenges, but health managers are dedicated to and find satisfaction in their work.
- Many Head Start staff and consultants contribute directly or indirectly to health services.
Although health services staff structures may differ from program to program, some core roles are needed to support health services management. These core roles include one or more persons responsible for the management of health services, one or more persons who can provide health services content area expertise, and other leadership and staff that directly or indirectly support comprehensive health services.
Many health managers report directly to a program director or site manager. This leader helps the health manager envision and implement goals and build a culture of health, safety, and wellness. The director connects the health manager with other managers and staff to coordinate and collaborate around health issues. The director also supports the health manager by providing and promoting professional development opportunities and other resources that offer opportunities to deepen knowledge about Head Start policies and services. The work of the health manager often overlaps with the work of other content managers and their staff; sometimes, the health manager serves in dual roles. Collaboration with other managers can help connect health and wellness goals to the other program services.
Important members of a health team include:
- Program leadership
- Managers for other service areas, such as education, disability, nutrition, transportation, and family engagement
- Transportation staff in programs that provide bus services
- Facilities manager and staff
- Family service workers
- Home visitors
- Members of the governing body or Tribal Council, Policy Council, Health Services Advisory Committee (HSAC), and parent committees
- Licensed or certified clinical staff or consultants (e.g., nurses, registered dietitians, social workers, child care health consultants, infant and early childhood mental health consultants, hearing and vision screeners)
- Early intervention specialists and personnel from local public schools, such as developmental, speech, physical, or occupational therapists
- Community partners
The following are examples of how some of these team members support health services:
- Teachers and family services staff have daily contact with families and children. They are an excellent resource to provide health education to children as part of their curriculum and support health messages to families. They also have insight into families’ health needs that they can share with the health services team.
- Cooks and food service staff play a vital role in ensuring that food is served safely and meets nutritional guidelines.
- The janitor/maintenance staff and security staff are responsible for safety and security issues in the physical facilities, such as a leaking pipe that can lead to falls or doors that do not close properly that can allow a child to leave the area.
- Experienced health and education professionals can offer guidance on menu design, culturally and linguistically responsive health education, health fair activities, field trips, and more.
- Volunteers may be able to help organize food or clothing drives to support families.
- A child care health consultant (CCHC) is a health professional with education and experience in child and community health who also has specific training in early care and education and child care health consultation. They can help develop policies, assist staff with addressing the needs of children with special health care needs, and provide training to staff and families.
- An infant and early childhood mental health (IECMH) consultant works in collaboration with staff and families on ways to help promote the social and emotional development of young children.
Tips and Strategies for Building a Health Team
- When identifying the health staffing and leadership for your program, consider the following:
- Health services expertise and management of health services may be the responsibility of one person, or the two tasks may be assigned to different staff members.
- The health manager may be solely responsible for health services or responsible for multiple service areas.
- Other service area staff may support or make up your program’s health team, because they are responsible for providing or supporting health services either directly or indirectly (e.g., family services staff, home visitors, enrollment staff).
- Health expertise may also be contributed by other staff, CCHCs, IECMHC consultants, members of the HSAC, and other community partners.
- Become familiar with and recognize the essential contribution of other service areas and programs that can support individualized and responsive health services, including mental health professionals and staff, disabilities services staff, and related service providers.
- Become familiar with your local or state’s resources and regulations as they apply to working with CCHCs. This may be available to your program through existing funding for early childhood programs in your area. Or, a program can establish a contract with one or more consultants where needed to support the program’s health services and staff.
- Consult the Child Care Health Consultant Competencies when selecting and working with a CCHC.
- Get to know the background, skills, knowledge, and experience of consultants supporting health.
- Collaborate with your family and community engagement (FCE) manager and FCE staff to understand and leverage the essential contribution that families make in successful health services.
- Make a habit of asking staff and families about health and safety concerns they feel need to be addressed.
Resource Type: Article
National Centers: Health, Behavioral Health, and Safety
Audience: Directors and Managers
Last Updated: October 30, 2023