Management Systems that Support Child and Family Development Services


Management System Support wheel.Each Head Start and Early Head Start program creates program design and management systems that directly relate to the work you do to provide a solid child- and family-focused foundation for home-based services. The National Center on Program Management and Fiscal Operations (n.d.) offers that leadership and governance are the bedrocks of effective management. Your management systems are crucial to the effective operation of services, which results in quality outcomes for children and families.

Systems needed to operate the program include:

  • Program planning and service system design
  • Training and professional development
  • Communication
  • Recordkeeping and reporting
  • Ongoing monitoring and continuous improvement
  • Community and self-assessment
  • Human resources
  • Technology and information systems
  • Transportation
  • Facilities and learning environments
  • Data and evaluation
  • Fiscal management

Here are examples of actions you might take for each system.

Program Planning and Service System Design

Program planning is a strategic, systematic process used to envision a desired future, identify program goals with measurable objectives, and identify an action plan with a series of action steps. Service system design emerges from program planning to organize and activate people by creating an infrastructure to support high-quality programs for children and families.

Program planning and service system design are incorporated into the following examples:

  • Encourage parents to serve on your program’s Policy Council, policy committee, and/or parent committee.
  • Provide information and training for Policy Council, policy committee, and/or parent committee members on theory, research, and best practices for delivering high-quality, home-based child and family development services. This can help parents make informed decisions about program planning, staff hiring, and budget development.
  • Encourage home-based program parents to form subcommittees for providing input on selecting curricula and screening and ongoing assessment tools, articulating family interests and needs, and planning relevant developmental activities.
  • Articulate a program philosophy and structure for delivering child and family services in families’ homes. Ensure that home visitors, other program staff, and those outside of your program, such as community partners, are familiar with the philosophy/structure and have easy access to information.
  • Conduct an annual strategic planning session or retreat that focuses on integrating high-quality home-based services throughout the program

Training and Professional Development

See the Professional Development for Home Visitors section of this handbook.


Establish formal and informal communication strategies that highlight child and family development and home-based services by building relationships with internal and external stakeholders.

Communication helps home-based programs “tell their stories” as they pursue program goals that include school readiness goals. Activities might include:

  • Reviewing and emphasizing, from the start, the importance of joint planning with parents and supporting parents to provide learning opportunities that enhance their child’s growth and development (45 CFR 1302.35(b)(1))
  • Posting special notices about service or program changes on staff bulletin boards or in emails
  • Including an issue relevant to child and family service delivery at each Policy Council and/or policy committee meeting (45 CFR 1301.2(c)(2)(i))
  • Creating and distributing a program newsletter for families and staff that includes a regular section on quality services for children and families and a special section on family accomplishments
  • Supporting the use of technology to engage and communicate with families as they prefer (e.g. email or texting) and to share information about children’s development and learning (e.g., ELOF@HOME mobile application) (45 CFR 1302.50(b)(1))

Recordkeeping and Reporting

Build and maintain a program’s institutional memory; oversee and distribute strategic reports and recordkeeping activities; and inform staff, leadership, and external partners.

Activities might include the following:

  • Establish a system for tracking services provided to children and families.
  • Review narrative and referral records monthly to ensure that your program provides child and family development services indicated by the family partnership process.
  • Review health records and immunizations to ensure they are up to date; review home visitors’ reports to see if home visitors check on well-baby visits and immunizations during each home visit.

Ongoing Monitoring and Continuous Improvement

Ongoing monitoring and continuous improvement involve systematically reviewing internal and external data to ensure that program goals and objectives are met and that programs comply with regulatory requirements. Programs rely on this system to measure program performance, identify areas of concern, make immediate program corrections, and generate reports. Programs use ongoing monitoring to ask, “Are we doing things right and on time?”

  • Review the Head Start Program Performance Standards (HSPPS) during supervision and professional development opportunities to ensure that home visitors understand the purpose of Head Start in general and the specific standards related to home-based programs.
  • Set aside time on a regular basis to review home visitors’ reports and other records and to conduct joint visits with home visitors to observe their interactions with families and children. This will help your program meet the HSPPS requirements and other best practices for delivering high-quality child and family development services.

Community and Self-Assessment

Community and self-assessment help to strengthen the home-based program’s planning process and supports continual quality improvement. Programs use the community assessment to ask, “Are we providing the right services to the right population?” Programs use the annual self-assessment process to ask, “Are we doing the right things?”

  • Participate in and facilitate relevant program self-assessment practices, such as involving Policy Council and community members; thoroughly reviewing data related to child and family development and outcomes, including school readiness, family goals, child health, home visit and socialization attendance, as well as referrals to and services used by parents and families; and developing recommendations for growth, improvement, and new directions.
  • Discuss the purpose and process of the annual self-assessment during staff meetings, supervision, and professional development.
  • Ensure that self-assessment results are shared and discussed with home visitors, families, and community partners.
  • Understand the needs of the community that the Head Start program can meet.

Human Resources

This system reminds us that any Head Start program is only as good as its people. The evolution of human resources emphasizes humans rather than humans as a resource. A strong human resources system ensures that staff members and volunteers have the credentials and competencies needed to provide quality Head Start services to children and families. These steps can help you achieve strong staffing:

  • Calculate the number of home visitors needed to serve your funded enrollment of children. When determining staff needed and caseloads for each home visitor, consider factors such as location (distance and time needed to travel to home visits within the service area), the experience level of incoming and existing home visitors, and the unique needs of children and families within the program and community.
  • Hire staff who are relationship ready and have the appropriate knowledge base, experiences, and skills for working with young children and their families. Ensure that staff reflect the culture and speak the language(s) of the families, if possible. See the Staffing the Home-Based Option section of this handbook for more information.
  • Determine salaries for home-based staff, considering retention and quality issues as appropriate.
  • Use consultants, external professional development opportunities, websites, and other resources to provide home visitors with up-to-date, relevant information on child and family development. See the Professional Development for Home Visitors section of this handbook for more information.
  • Keep accurate, complete, and up-to-date documentation on any administrative issues addressed with home visitors in accordance with your program’s human resources policies and protocols.

Technology and Information Systems

Technology and information systems underscore the importance of a physical infrastructure that supports increased reliance on data collection and analysis. This refers to the selection and management of appropriate hardware (computers) and software (e.g., Child Plus, PROMIS, Teaching Strategies Gold) that enable programs to monitor their progress.

  • Maintain the infrastructure needed to support the increased reliance on data collection and analysis.
  • Select and manage appropriate hardware (computers) and software (Child Plus, PROMIS, etc.) that enable programs to monitor their progress and home visitors to document their work with families.
  • Establish and maintain procedures to ensure confidentiality of any personally identifiable information.
  • Establish appropriate procedures to engage families in the use of technology as they prefer and are comfortable, such as using email or texting for communication and social media for resource notifications.


Transportation supports the safe and efficient movement of children from one point to another. Program leaders must ensure that transportation systems are consistent with service area needs and in compliance with state and federal regulations. Your actions might include the following:

  • Ensure that parents know about safety restraint systems, seat belt checks, and other information on safe transportation.
  • Tell parents about the state and federal regulations for child safety in a vehicle.

Facilities and Learning Environments

Facilities and learning environments reinforce the importance of designing and maintaining all facilities, so they actively support children and families in both indoor and outdoor environments.

  • Maintain a notebook, file of articles, or library of resources related to child and family development, home visiting, curriculum experiences, observation, screening and ongoing assessment, and other relevant topics.
  • Build and maintain a collection of homemade toys, books, utensils, manipulatives, interactive objects, and other stimulating materials that are developmentally and culturally appropriate for socializations.
  • Make sure all equipment used for socializations is designed to support child and family development. Have appropriate feeding equipment (e.g., infant/toddler feeding tables and chairs, child-sized tables and chairs) and sleeping equipment (e.g., cribs, cots, mats, and blankets) on hand.
  • Ensure that facilities and other spaces used for group socializations can support child and family development. Consider whether the space is physically accessible, easy for families to get to, meets licensing standards, is comfortable for both children and adults, and lends itself to parent-child experiences and adult peer-group interactions.
  • Provide home visitors with equipment that makes their work more efficient and safer (e.g., laptops, tablets, digital cameras, cell phones, beepers).

Data and Evaluation

Data and evaluation drive data-based decision making, inform each stage of the program planning cycle, and use qualitative and quantitative measures to ensure effective program management.

  • Use data for decision-making and evaluation, such as using family and child data to make decisions about home visits and socializations, as well as evaluate the impact of home-based services.
  • Use data for all your decisions about supervision and professional development

Fiscal Management

Sound fiscal management ensures accountability for federal assets and compliance with regulations and includes internal controls. It also ensures that appropriate reporting systems are in place, and that program leaders develop and execute a budget that reflects and supports program goals and priorities.

  • Fiscal management is critical for the success of any home-based program. Careful monitoring of the budget allows for the judicious spending of Head Start funds to maximize services for children and families.
  • Nonfederal match is an opportunity to coordinate with the community to meet program goals and objectives.

Experience It

Watch the video The Head Start Management Systems Wheel: Key Resource for Head Start Stakeholders. Discover the core elements of the wheel with a focus on how each of the wheel’s components relates to the HSPPS. Explore how guiding questions can serve as an ongoing systems-building resource for Head Start grantees, which is key to moving from compliance to excellence. This session also reviews resources from the Early Childhood Learning and Knowledge Center that help in using the systems wheel.

Learn More

Foundations for Excellence: A Guide for Five-Year Planning and Continuous Improvement, 2nd Edition

In Head Start, the planning system is an essential part of program operations. Use this comprehensive guide to learn what Head Start expects from programs’ strategic planning. Explore planning topics to support programs’ successful completion of the Head Start grant application. Discover how to make programming responsive to community needs throughout the 5-year grant period.