What Is It?
The process you use to decide which home visitor to send to which family influences many aspects of your program:
- home visitor job satisfaction and staff retention;
- effective family partnerships;
- type and quantity of program services provided; and
- overall quality of your program.
Clearly, you must consider the number of children/families with whom each home visitor works. However, less tangible issues, such as staff characteristics, types and intensity of family needs, and logistics are also important.
The HSPPS do not specify the number of children to be served within each home visitor’s caseload. Instead, the number of families determines caseloads. Each home visitor must maintain an average caseload of 10 to 12 families, with a maximum of 12 families [45 CFR 1306.33(a)(5)]. At any given time, the number of families within a caseload can be lower than the average, depending on the needs and circumstances of the particular children and families served.
Some programs have found it beneficial to create caseloads consisting of 10 to 12 children (rather than families), so that the home visitor is better able to focus attention and services for each child enrolled. This last point is important, especially for families with more than one child enrolled in the home-based option: the recommendation is for staff to offer each family a weekly 90-minute home visit for each child. Staff who work with families with more than one child enrolled note that they plan home visits to build on each child's unique skills and unique needs. They explore each family's interest in and availability for longer or multiple home visits over a week. Then, together, staff and families plan how home visits will be delivered to ensure that individualized services are provided to each enrolled child within a family's schedule.
Here are some issues to consider when making home visitor assignments.
Home visitors bring different abilities, experiences, and preferences to their work. Try to match home visitor characteristics with the characteristics and circumstances of participating families.
- Look for strengths that each home visitor brings. Try to match these strengths with each family’s strengths.
- You may also need to match home visitor strengths to families’ needs. If you have a highly skilled staff, you may want to assign them to families with the highest needs.
- Whenever possible, consider home visitor’s preferences for assignments, for example, accommodating home visitors who express strong negative reactions to specific risk factors (e.g., substance abuse) or personality characteristics (e.g., parents who are withdrawn or demonstrate anger or hostility). Make sure each home visitor has the necessary supports to work effectively with her or his assigned families.
Family interests and needs
- To the extent possible, assign home visitors to work with families based on factors such as families’ interests and needs and the home visitor’s expertise. For example, a family with multiple health needs may require a home visitor who has a medical or health background. Additionally, families benefit from working with home visitors from the same cultural background and/or who speak the families’ home languages [45 CFR 1304.52(g)(2)].
Intensity of family needs
Ideally, home visitors should have a balanced caseload of families who are relatively stable (have fewer needs) and families who need more intensive support. You might risk burning out your staff if you repeatedly assign the same home visitors to families experiencing the most challenging circumstances!
- Develop a system to monitor home visitor assignments and families’ needs. Home visitors working with families with more complex life circumstances may need a smaller caseload so they can provide more time and support to families.
- Consider having college students (e.g., students majoring in education, social work, psychology, child development) or support staff (e.g., parent aides) partner with home visitors who are supporting families with intense needs.
- Consider home visitors’ geographic location, travel time, and transportation requirements when making assignments.
- Consider home visitors’ health conditions. For example, if possible, avoid sending a home visitor with asthma into a home where family members regularly smoke.
- Consider which home visitors are available for families who need visits at night or on weekends. Establish a clear policy for how you make these assignments and set staff work hours.
Considerations for maintaining an Early Head Start home visitor caseload include ensuring that each enrolled child is receiving appropriate and individualized services as identified. These considerations serve as a useful guide for grantee and program administrators. Applicable Head Start Program Performance Standards and resources provide additional information.
This revised tip sheet offers clarification on the requirements for serving multiple children in the same family in the home-based option.