10.5 Continuous Improvement

What Is It?

The pursuit of quality is ongoing for you and home visitors. Continuous program improvement involves ongoing monitoring and program self-assessment [45 CFR 1302.102] and how you use the results of these processes to improve program services.

Ongoing monitoring involves the systems and procedures you put in place to regularly check child and family service delivery. This includes systems for tracking and monitoring children’s health status, developmental screenings, ongoing assessment, curriculum content delivered during home visit and socializations, family partnership agreements, Individual Family Service Plans for children with disabilities, number of home visits and socializations conducted, number of families retained and served, parent engagement efforts, and other services. The data you collect on a regular basis helps you answer the question, “Are we doing things effectively and in a timely manner?" Data collected during ongoing monitoring also helps you and home visitors prepare for the annual self-assessment.

Annual program self-assessment allows you, home visitors, families, other program staff, and community partners to step back and determine how effective your program has been in carrying out federal regulations and meeting your program’s goals and objectives. It is a time for looking at the “big picture” and answering the question, “Are we doing the right things?” Complete, accurate, and timely documentation from home visitors provides much of the data used to understand the effects of your home-based services on child and family progress and outcomes. During self-assessment, you work with home visitors, other program staff, Policy Council, and community members to uncover patterns or trends that may not be evident through the ongoing monitoring process.

The annual self-assessment also provides an opportunity for your program to look for consistent data messages from across all areas of operation. You work with others to identify the sources of data that best represent the reality of your program and ask questions such as the following:

  • Which data highlight our strengths?
  • Which data suggest areas of concerns?
  • What does the data tell us about our progress in meeting goals?
  • Are there patterns across data sources that we need to attend to?

You also work with others to summarize your program’s self-assessment findings and develop a report that is shared with program staff, Policy Council, families, governing board members, federal, staff, and relevant community partners.

You engage home visitors in the self-assessment process by helping them see the connections between thorough documentation and demonstrated quality of services, and among program goals, the services delivered, and outcomes of the self-assessment. Goals determine services, services influence outcomes, and outcome findings inform service delivery and new goals. This is a cyclical process! You also make the process meaningful by linking self-assessment results to individual and group staff development plans.

If you are in a program that has other program options such as center-based or family child care, you also help program administrators understand how home-based programs offer different services and lead to outcomes that may be different than for the other options. For example, home-based programs offer more targeted services in parent–child interactions. Assessing program effectiveness in this area requires moving beyond just looking at child progress. You look for data that demonstrates changes in the relationships between children and families. Questions you might ask include:

  • Does our home-based model meet the needs of families and the community?
  • How does our home-based model positively affect children’s development, learning, and progress toward school readiness?
  • How does our program enhance parents’ capacities to promote their children’s development?
  • How does our program enhance parents’ capacities to meet goals outlined in their family partnership agreement?
  • What strategies and services seem most effective for children and families?

How To

Here are suggestions for supporting ongoing monitoring and annual program self-assessment.

  • Determine the when, who, and how of outcome data collection.
  • Work with program staff to create or identify a user-friendly information management system that supports data collection.
  • Create a streamlined documentation system that meets Head Start requirements and, at the same time, is manageable for home visitors.
  • Gather a variety of data on how services are being carried out in the home and during socializations.
  • Work with program staff to establish a process for reflecting on ongoing monitoring and self-assessment findings to inform program practices.

Experience It

Continuous Improvement

Stacy Dimino, National Center for Program Management and Fiscal Operations, talks about self-assessment and program and goal planning with staff and families.

Learn More

Wondering how you can use data to strengthen your work with families? Explore this series to learn relationship-based ways to partner with families and support progress on Parent, Family, and Community Engagement Outcomes.

Ongoing monitoring systems help assess program operations. This web page contains information and resources to help programs take the necessary steps to meet federal regulations, program goals and objectives, and ensure that appropriate interventions are taken in a timely manner.

This paper defines these key terms within a Head Start context and provides tips for developing each.

This paper clarifies the process for setting goals and objectives related to family outcomes.


Head Start and Early Head Start programs serving infants and toddlers collect a lot of data. These data are used to inform program planning and decision making at the child and program levels. This information sheet addresses why quality data is important and provides information about six characteristics of quality data. It also includes questions to consider in managing quality data. This resource is designed for use by federal staff, T/TA providers, and program administrators.