Community Assessment

Review the HSPPS Requirements

a smiling family sits on the couch together

As cited in the HSPPS, six types of information about your service area must be included in the community assessment.

1. Demographic Makeup of Head Start-Eligible Children and Families.

This information is used to create a portrait of the families eligible to be served by your program. Demographic data which must be collected is found in HSPPS 45 CFR §1302.11(b)(1)(i)(A-C). It includes the number of eligible infants, toddlers and preschool age children, and expectant mothers, including their geographic location, race, ethnicity, and languages spoken.

Data also must be collected about three specific populations: children experiencing homelessness, children in foster care, and children with disabilities. To gather information about children experiencing homelessness, you must work, to the extent possible, in collaboration with the McKinney-Vento local education agency liaisons (42 U.S.C. 11432(6)(A)). Community assessment data about children with disabilities must identify the types of disabilities, relevant services, and resources provided to these children by community agencies (45 CFR §1302.11(b)(1)(i)(C)).

Demographic data will be collected through both internal and external sources. External data will help you estimate the number of eligible children and families and learn about their cultures, strengths, and needs. There are many benefits to working with community partners to gather some of the external data.

When analyzing demographic data, be sure to report the number of children who are currently enrolled in Head Start as well as those who are eligible but not being served. This will help you establish estimates of enrollment needs, as well as make decisions about enrollment practices. For example, if the community assessment identifies slots for children experiencing homelessness or children in foster care as a clear need, that program will be allowed to reserve one or more enrollment slots when a vacancy occurs for pregnant women and children experiencing homelessness and children in foster care (45 CFR §1302.15(c)). In order to provide a comprehensive picture of the population in the service area, information about changing and underserved populations is necessary. Remember, your community assessment must include demographic data from across the entire service area. It is particularly helpful to highlight the needs of enrolled children and their families, as well as community-based services available to them. Reviewing data over time can be especially effective in identifying demographic trends such as birth rates and population shifts.

2. Education, Health, Nutrition and Social Service Needs of Head Start-Eligible Children and Families

As set forth in the HSPPS, the community assessment must include data that identifies prevalent social or economic factors affecting the well-being of children and families (45 CFR §1302.11(b)(1)(ii)). This includes identifying community issues that impact on children's nutritional health needs (45 CFR §1302.42(b)(4)). The goal is to present a balanced, comprehensive assessment of the needs by drawing on a variety of information gathered from both internal and external sources.

Internal data collected from program staff, parents, and local service providers will give your Head Start program an in-depth understanding of family and child needs. In addition, your program will draw on existing information, such as data from the PIR, minutes of advisory committees, and family assessment data. These are just a few examples of accessible internal information.

External data, drawn from community partners, media outlets, and websites, provides information about the needs of the community at large and newer populations your program might serve.

3. Work, School, and Training Schedules of Parents with Eligible Children

The community assessment must include the typical work, school, and training schedules of parents with eligible children (45 CFR §1302.11(b)(1)(iii)). This information is needed as you make decisions about your program's structure and calendar (45 CFR §1302.20(a)(1-2)).

It is beneficial to gather schedule data from parents already served by your program, as well as from parents whose eligible children are not enrolled. You may reach out to a variety of organizations to help gather this data, including teen parenting programs, adult education programs, educational institutions (e.g., community colleges, trade schools, and other higher education programs), technical training programs, and state agencies.

4. Other Early Childhood Education Programs that Serve Eligible Children

Information about other child development services, child care centers, and family child care programs that serve eligible children must be included in the community assessment. Details about home visiting services and publicly funded state and local preschools must also be included, along with an estimate of the approximate number of eligible children served in these various settings (45 CFR §1302.11(b)(1)(iv)). Across many population groups, young children may be cared for by relatives or neighbors. This is sometimes referred to as "family, friend, and neighbor" care. Because these arrangements are often unlicensed and informal, they may not appear in official child care counts. Nevertheless, it is important for the community assessment to estimate their prevalence as it may indicate a need for additional child care services for eligible families.

It is beneficial to consider such factors as location, schedule, and duration of services; vacancy and waiting list statistics; affordability and accessibility of care services; ages served; and the scope and quality of services. By including an analysis of this data, your program will be better positioned to meet its requirement to take an active role in promoting coordinated systems of comprehensive early childhood services to low-income children and families (45 CFR §1302.53(b)).

5. Community Resources

The community assessment is required to provide an overview of community resources that address the needs of eligible children and their families (45 CFR §1302.11(b)(1)(v)). When gathering information about programs that help eligible families, you will want to consider supports related to nutrition, housing, employment, education, health, transportation, finances, and other services.

By compiling a thorough description of available community resources, your program can determine which services can be provided by Head Start and which are best provided by your community partners. You will also use this information as you establish collaborative relationships and partnerships with community organizations through formal mechanisms, such as joint agreements, procedures, or contracts. As outlined in the HSPPS  45 CFR §1302.53(a), such formal agreements can be used to arrange on-site delivery of services and facilitate access to a range of community programs that are responsive to children's and families' needs, family partnership goals, and community needs.

It is important to know which services are being used by families already enrolled, as well as for families who are not being served. This helps to identify who may be most in need of your program's support. Sometimes low-income families face obstacles as they seek to find and access community resources. It is beneficial to compare the views of the families and the community institutions in order to identify needs and gaps in services. You may find that in spite of the existence of many community services, eligible families are not using them. The families may not know about them; they may not find them "user friendly;" or they may encounter language or other barriers.

6. Community Strengths

Identifying the strengths of the community is an integral and required component of the community assessment (45 CFR §1302.11(b)(1)(vi)). Knowing these strengths will help programs identify what supports and services can be accessed by eligible families as well as what supplemental supports may need to be provided by the grantee.

In the course of the community assessment, you will also collect information about trends and changes in your service area. You will review this information to determine whether population counts or percentages have changed and, if so, how they have changed (e.g., increased, decreased); the reasons for the changes; and whether your program's internal data (e.g., PIR, enrollment forms) indicates similar changes or trends.

This process can place your program in the best position to serve those eligible children and families who are most in need of services. Contact local employers, city or county governments, and community partners to obtain information on local employment and housing trends. Document changes in area jobs, such as in the agricultural, construction, or service sectors. Your community assessment report will include a discussion of trends that you anticipate will affect your program throughout the grant cycle. Head Start programs can use these trends to predict the potential influx of new families and to assist in program planning.