9.2 When Home Visitors Are the Challenge


What Is It?

As a supervisor to home visitors, you have administrative responsibilities. You must ensure that

  • all visits are completed as scheduled;
  • documentation is completed accurately and in a timely manner;
  • the program’s approach to working with children and their families is carried out;
  • home visitors receive the training and support they need to perform well; and
  • you observe home visits and socializations.

Each of these tasks can be complex and time consuming even when things are going well. Unfortunately, sometimes employees do not perform their duties and administrative roles become challenging. Supervisors have offered these as problems that most often arise:

  • Home visitors falsify records, claiming to make visits that never really happened.
  • Home visitors make visits but cannot keep up with the documentation.
  • Home visitors cannot follow the approach and protocol adopted by the program.
  • Home visitors do not cooperate with supervision.

How To

When the home visitor falsifies visits

This is clearly a serious employment issue. It tends to come to light if a family reports they have not seen their home visitor, maybe to a staff member or another family. It is a human resources issue that must be handled according to program protocols.

When the home visitor falls behind in documentation

Almost everyone working in Head Start (HS) programs is challenged by the paperwork. HS is a publically funded program with high standards for accountability. There is a saying in HS that “if it isn’t written down, it didn’t happen.”

Nonetheless, maintaining quality in programming does require good record keeping. Programs need systems for tracking child and family progress, issues that arise, attendance, program efforts, health records, ongoing assessments of the children, self-assessments of the program, and so on.

You can help home visitors manage documentation in these ways:

  • Ensure that the home visitor understands the purpose of each assessment, each note, and each form.
  • Create systems that prevent duplication of effort. Have internal teams review forms and processes periodically to ensure that any one effort may serve several purposes.
  • Help a struggling home visitor with time management. Is documentation a scheduling issue? Can the notes be simplified? Is it possible to use technology for dictation of notes? Is there adequate office time each week to review notes and forms and prepare for the next set of visits and socializations?

When the home visitor cannot follow the program's approach and protocol

Home visiting has developed over the years, in many cases, through models that have required strict replication of their procedures. If a home visitor comes to your program already trained in one of these models, it may be difficult to shift practices. For example, many home visiting models included bringing toys and materials into the home to support achieving certain learning goals during the visit. In a major shift, home-based programs including EHS and HS realized that it is more beneficial to use materials found in the home for learning experiences. Using everyday materials, experiences, and routines helps the family understand the many opportunities for learning available to them and their child throughout every day.

You may help home visitors use your program’s approach with fidelity if you

  • provide training on every aspect of the curriculum, assessments, and philosophy—not just the “what” and “how,” but also the “why”;
  • discuss their work in enough detail to ensure their understanding of the processes of your approach;
  • observe home visitors during visits and socializations or ask them to video themselves and watch the video with them;
  • provide coaching (see Chapter 5 in this Handbook), and
  • role-play home visits individually or in groups, having each home visitor demonstrate an important aspect of your approach such as
    • using materials found in the home for a specific learning goal;
    • supporting the parent to interact with the child, being the “guide by the side”; or
    • choosing words to use to identify learning as they observe it in an infant or toddler.

When the home visitor does not cooperate with supervision

Supervision can flounder for many reasons. Signs that there may be difficulties include the supervisor doing most of the talking, frequently cancelling, and not taking charge when it would be helpful. Supervisors should also be alert if a home visitor frequently cancels, remains quiet for most of the meeting, rushes through the meeting, shares only the facts, or argues against any suggestions.

Here are some questions you might explore to try to improve the situation:

  • What does the home visitor like about the work? Dislike about the work?
  • How does the home visitor evaluate the program’s approach?
  • Is the work what the home visitor expected it to be? Has it changed?
  • Are there particular challenges?
  • Are there cultural differences between you and the home visitor or families and the home visitor?
  • Has the home visitor had limited experience with reflective thinking or mentoring?
  • Does the home visitor feel you lack faith in his or her abilities?
  • Is there mistrust about how information may be shared or used?

As with any relationship, the home visitor–supervisor relationship will have ups and downs and occasionally be messy. It is important that you, as a supervisor, receive supportive supervision around these issues.

Experience It

When Home Visitors Are the Challenge

Jennifer Boss, director of the EHS NRC; Bob Stechuk, assistant director of the National Center on Cultural and Linguistic Responsiveness; and David Jones, home visiting specialist, Office of Head Start, talk about supporting staff when they face challenging families or when they make mistakes.

To view the full webcast, go to: Engaging Parents in the Home-based and Family Child Care Program Options 17th Annual Virtual Birth to Three Institute: Plenary E Track E: Home Visiting and Family Child Care

Reflection Questions:

  1. How could you use team support and reflective practice to address staff who make mistakes with families?
  2. Evaluate strategies you have used with staff who don’t follow policies and procedures.



Learn More

Short paper from the Family Connections Series includes reflective questions for the supervisor and the home visitor about making the supervisory relationship work.


The needs of supervisors and home visitors were identified by six focus group sessions sponsored by the Home Visiting Forum, a national task group. Directors, human resource personnel, home visitors and supervisors will learn about the issues identified in the focus groups. This report highlights the importance of supportive management, training and professional development, structure and communication, and evaluation for home visitors and their supervisors.