Human Resources

Tips from Parents to Support Parent Employment in Head Start Programs

Parents’ strengths, expertise, and lived experiences are assets to Head Start programs. Parents and family members who transition into staff roles understand what it’s like to participate in the program. Through their experiences, they can build partnerships as peers with the families currently enrolled in the program.

Explore the key milestones described by parents that led to their employment in a Head Start program. Learn and implement the parent-recommended strategies to support parent employment intentionally and successfully in your program.

The Head Start Program Performance Standards, Personnel policies, 45 CFR §1302.90(b)(6), specifically require programs to consider current and former parents for employment. Employment is a core aspect of family well-being and a common pathway to economic mobility. As such, employment supports the Head Start mission as a two-generation, comprehensive services program designed to break the cycle of poverty.

The Journey of Parent Employment in Head Start Programs

The journey from being a parent with a child enrolled in a Head Start program to becoming a staff member is marked by key milestones and experiences identified during a qualitative review of testimonials and stories from former Head Start parents who pursued employment and careers in Head Start programs.

When sharing their journey, many former Head Start parents emphasized the importance of first impressions and early interactions with staff in the program. When first impressions were positive, those experiences often contributed to an interest among parents in future Head Start employment. Relationships with family services staff played an especially significant role in supporting parents to identify their strengths, set goals, pursue volunteer and parent leadership opportunities, and ultimately take steps toward employment in a Head Start program.

The graphic below shows the journey for parents, which begins with enrollment in a Head Start program and ends with a Head Start career path. These milestones are:

  • Enrollment and building relationships
  • Partnership process and goal-setting
  • Volunteer and leadership opportunities
  • Employment opportunities
  • Head Start career path
The five parent recommended strategies which will be discussed in the following paragraphs.

Parent-recommended Strategies to Support Parent Employment

Parents recommended the following program strategies to address each milestone in ways that support parent employment in Head Start programs. These recommendations encourage programs to review, revise, and renew their existing strategies and create new plans to support parent employment. Programs can develop an equitable and comprehensive approach to recruiting, retaining, and stabilizing their workforce by focusing on parent employment and making it part of their program goals.

Enrollment icon of two people at a table.

Enrollment and Building Relationships

First impressions and relationships with program staff play a key role in parents’ decisions to pursue employment in Head Start programs. Programs can make good impressions by:

  • Ensuring all staff know about the program’s mission and approach to parent employment.
  • Including current staff who are former Head Start parents or family members in program recruitment materials (with their permission).
  • Ensuring that staff regularly share information about the program’s various volunteer and employment opportunities with parents and family members. This effort can begin during recruitment and enrollment and continue during the family partnership process when setting goals with families.

Parents make the best advocates for the program, especially parents who become program staff and share their experience as employees with other parents.

Goal setting icon with arrow hitting the bullseye.

Partnership Process and Goal Setting

The family partnership process and its goal-setting activities present a key opportunity to identify strengths and partner with families in building the skills they need for employment. Consider the following recommendations as you engage families in the family partnership process:

  • Use the family partnership process to identify families’ career aspirations, strengths, skills, and educational goals. When relevant, connect these elements to a career in family services or Head Start programs.
  • Recognize and uplift the strengths, expertise, and unique skills that parents and family members show in their daily lives.
  • Help family members see how their lived experiences, expertise, and skills align with various job opportunities and requirements.
  • Co-design professional development opportunities with and for parents that address their interests and support their future roles and careers.
  • Identify the “best fit” opportunities or job positions by considering each family member’s interests, skills, and goals.
Opportunities icon showing a group of people gathered at a conference table.

Volunteer and Leadership Opportunities

Opportunities to volunteer and become a leader in the program give parents a chance to build leadership skills, participate in hiring and decision-making, and learn about Head Start policies and performance standards. Use the following strategies to support these opportunities:

  • Share information with parents and family members about volunteer and parent leadership opportunities in the program during initial recruitment and throughout families’ enrollment. Discuss with parents and family members the benefits and connections between these opportunities and potential future employment in the program.
  • Develop internship, apprenticeship, or training/certification programs that are available in multiple languages and responsive to parents’ unique abilities, strengths, skills, interests, and needs — for example, programs for chefs/cooks or bus drivers, data management specialists, family services staff, and teachers.
  • Design volunteer opportunities that help parents and family members develop and strengthen work-related skills that are important for getting and keeping jobs. Align these opportunities with the skills that family members report they would like to develop.
  • Provide opportunities for parents and family members to “shadow” staff and learn about the day-to-day responsibilities of various program roles.
Employment icon with a magnifying glass surrounded by a group of people.

Employment Opportunities

Parents are more likely to consider employment within the program when the program’s recruitment efforts are intentional and individualized. Tailor your recruitment practices to:

  • Hire parents and family members to serve in staff and leadership roles in the program. This priority elevates the family voice and expertise within the program and improves inclusion and belonging for families. Parents can bring the deep connections they have with their community and can enhance cultural and linguistic responsiveness within the program.
  • Find multiple ways to communicate that parent employment in the program benefits everyone, including staff, program leaders, children, and family members.
  • Create inclusive, equitable staff recruitment and hiring processes that encourage parents and family members to apply for and pursue employment opportunities in the program, such as:
    • Advertising job openings on physical family bulletin boards or community poster/flyer boards.
    • Setting up “career booths” in places where parents and families spend time in the community.
    • Writing inclusive job descriptions that align with parents’ strengths, lived experiences, and qualifications (e.g., a high school diploma, a degree in a non-related field, or a degree from another country), with information about how the program can help parent applicants fulfill the educational requirements.
    • Using plain language and avoiding jargon (e.g., “proven track record” or “self-starter”) in job descriptions and interview materials.
  • For parents and family members new to the workforce, consider providing supports to help them transition to new routines. These responsive accommodations might include the following:
    • Offering flexible work hours to accommodate temporary child care or caregiving needs when possible.
    • Offering individualized mentoring opportunities or peer-to-peer connections with other staff members to support new parent employees during their transition and initial orientation phase.
    • Identifying community partners who can offer services (e.g., transportation, child care, education/training) that may make it easier for family members to fulfill job requirements.
Career paths icon showing a person taking a path towards a destination.

Head Start Career Paths

Once parents and family members are hired as Head Start staff members, additional strategies can support their success and career paths within the program. Parents and family members who step into staff roles can mentor other parents and motivate them to pursue employment. Consider the following recommendations:

  • Connect newly hired parents and family members with parents already employed in the program to serve as peer mentors.
  • Offer on-the-job training or coursework opportunities at the program or through a community partner (e.g., community college or university, workforce board or workforce development office, small businesses) to help parents and family members advance their educational credentials and career experience.
  • Provide concrete supports such as child care, tuition reimbursement, food, and transportation assistance to help parents complete professional credentials or educational requirements (e.g., Family Services or Child Development Associate Credential).

Resource Background

This resource was developed with parent leaders from the Program and Family Voice Committee at the National Center on Parent, Family, and Community Engagement. This committee is made up of family leaders (including current and former Head Start family members), direct service staff, advisors, and National Center staff.