Strategies for Attendance

Action Strategies
Establish a record-keeping and follow-up system
  • Track each child's attendance each day.
  • Follow up immediately when there is an absence by visiting or directly contacting the family.
  • Document all contacts and special family support service activities with the family.
  • Ensure that attendance policies regarding children experiencing homelessness are a part of your program's written policies.
  • Form an attendance monitoring committee to continually review attendance records and follow up with absenteeism.
Integrate the child into the classroom
  • Ensure that your service area plans describe how you will provide continuity of services for children in homeless situations.
  • Assess the child quickly.
  • Establish classroom routines for new children.
  • Introduce new children to the class.
  • Be sensitive about smoothly integrating new children into the classroom and Head Start community.
  • Keep a short, simple list of classroom rules and procedures.
  • Make sure all children have a chance to have a class job/role and to participate in all activities.
  • Start a portfolio of class work for the child, if developmentally appropriate.
  • Provide a special place for the child to keep belongings.
Integrate the family into the program
  • Meet with parents when they register.
  • Talk to and welcome new families individually.
  • Give new families a "welcome gift" (e.g. school supplies, school clothes).
  • Develop a partnership with each family and determine what services and supports they want and need.
  • Be available for home visits for families who want more support.
  • Work with community partners to provide the necessary information to help support families.
Address the high mobility of families and the transient nature of homelessness
  • Ensure that your service area plans address the issues your community faces regarding families in homeless situations.
  • When a family moves, allow a child to remain in a program when it is in his or her best interest.
  • Let a family know that it is important to notify the program if they move.
  • Minimize educational disruption due to homelessness.
  • Connect the available community resources to improve the provision of comprehensive services to children and their families who are experiencing homelessness.

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Mary Vanderwert, Collaboration Director
Minnesota Head Start Collaboration Office

Mary Vanderwert is the Director of the Minnesota Head Start State Collaboration Office. Select the links below to hear or read what Mary has to say about attendance in Head Start based on homelessness.

Support children and parents Watch the video [00:01:17] | Read the transcript

Support children and parents

So keep in mind what children need and young children who are homeless need lots of support and they need good… well-trained teachers who can be available to them. They need access to services, they need their parents to be supported so that they can fulfill their role as parents -- that parents are interacting in a way that they should with children, that they're experiencing the joy of parenthood even though they're in a very stressful situation. So, number one, keep children in mind.

The other thing is parents, to keep parents in mind that parents need lots of support in this really stressful time that they are, as well as the program, focusing on the needs of their children along with all those other things they have to do. They have to get enrolled in services, they need to get housing found, they may be dealing with mental health issues or other legal issues that come along with homelessness. But to be able to remind them that they're parents too and to support them in that and create some spaces where parents can be with their children in a more normal sort of typical way that families interact. So, to support parents as well.

Transport children from shelters to a program Watch the video [00:01:30] | Read the transcript

Transport children from shelters to a program

Another community in my state has arrangements with the shelters to pick up the preschool children. If a family with a preschooler comes into a shelter, they call the Head Start program and they're enrolled and then they pick them up each day and the children attend Head Start every day until they are stabilized, until they're into housing. And then they can stay in that center until the family feels like they're ready to move on or the child is placed in another classroom in the center.

In that program, the classroom is set up for young children who are homeless. They have spaces for children to hold their things so that they have one part of the world that they have control over and that they can keep their things in. They have fewer children in the classroom. I think they have a group size of 12 and the teachers they've assigned to that program are trained in working with children who are experiencing a lot of stress in their lives. So they go into an environment that's prepared for their very special needs. That program also has lots of relationships with the early intervention team at the public schools and mental health services. So those things are all available to those families and children very quickly as they enroll.

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Last Updated: January 6, 2017