Head Start REACH: Strengthening Outreach, Recruitment, and Engagement Approaches with Families, 2020 - 2025

The Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation (OPRE) within the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) has contracted with Mathematica and its partner Brazelton Touchpoints Center (BTC) to better understand the characteristics and experiences of Head Start eligible families experiencing adversity and how Head Start programs recruit, select, enroll, and retain (RSER) these families. The adversities that some Head Start eligible families may face are often intertwined with poverty. Focusing on families facing adversity and RSER approaches can help support efforts to ensure Head Start is reaching and serving the families who can potentially benefit from Head Start’s comprehensive approach.

The following research questions will drive the project activities:

  • Who is and is not being recruited, selected, enrolled, and retained in Head Start?
  • What are the adversities faced by Head Start eligible families?
  • How do Head Start programs make decisions about which populations to target for services and which families to enroll?
  • How do they prioritize families for enrollment in communities where there are more eligible families than slots?
  • To what extent are these decisions influenced by their needs assessments, availability of other ECE options, and overall engagement with the community?
  • To what extent are those being recruited, selected, enrolled, and retained in Head Start representative of Head Start eligible families experiencing adversity and the communities and service areas in which Head Start programs are embedded?
  • What approaches do Head Start programs use to conduct RSER activities for families?
  • To what extent are these approaches tailored to families experiencing adversity and families who face barriers to using Head Start?
  •  How do families perceive the RSER approaches used by programs?
  • Which approaches are the most promising for recruiting, selecting, enrolling, and retaining families experiencing adversity and families who face barriers in utilizing Head Start programs?

Mathematica and BTC will address these questions by:

  • Reviewing existing literature and data sets to answer key questions about the population of families eligible for Head Start as well as programs’ approaches to recruiting, selecting, enrolling and retaining families experiencing adversity;
  • Developing a conceptual framework that articulates the role that systems-level inputs and other contextual factors play in shaping RSER approaches for families in Head Start; and
  • Designing studies to understand program approaches to RSER through interviews with program leadership, staff carrying out RSER activities, community partner agencies, and families experiencing adversity - both those who are enrolled in Head Start and those who have not enrolled.

If optional services components are exercised, Mathematica and BTC will design a large-scale study focused on strengthening the research base on RSER approaches in Head Start; this study has the potential to provide a nationally representative picture of Head Start programs, and a deeper understanding of families enrolled in Head Start as well as those eligible but not participating. The culmination of the project will directly help programs by providing a toolkit for use by federal, state, and/or local agencies and programs that builds capacity to connect and engage with families experiencing adversity.

The study team will engage a variety of stakeholders, including federal and state administrators, ECE advocates and opinion leaders, state and community providers, and training and technical assistance providers in shaping and learning from contract activities and will communicate project insights to the field through various products, such as briefs and presentations.

Point(s) of contact: Amanda Coleman and Mary Mueggenborg.