Head Start Family Voices Pilot Study

2012-2014
Prepared for
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families

Head Start and Early Head Start are comprehensive child development programs that, together, serve children from birth to age 5, pregnant women, and their families. These child-focused programs aim to increase the school readiness of young children in low-income families. To better understand the experiences and perspectives of participating families and staff, Mathematica developed and pilot tested interviews that collected qualitative data from these families and support staff. Currently, there are limited in-depth qualitative data on the engagement and service provision experiences of families participating in Head Start and Early Head Start and the staff members who provide the family support services. The measures developed for this study will likely be used in future large-scale studies like the Head Start Family and Child Experiences Survey (FACES) and the Early Head Start Family and Child Experiences Study (Baby FACES), both ongoing descriptive studies aimed at maintaining an up-to-date, extensive knowledge base to support Head Start and Early Head Start policies and programs. These qualitative data will complement the descriptive information from these studies and help the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) identify and build on program strengths, continuously refine and improve practices, and promote healthy growth and development of low-income children.

A central goal of the pilot study was to identify interview questions that can be used to provide rich and varied information on family engagement and service provision in Head Start and Early Head Start. The types of questions answered by the qualitative measures include the following:

• What does family engagement look like in Head Start and Early Head Start?

• How do family service workers and home visitors engage with families and what support do they receive from the program?

• How are comprehensive services provided in Head Start and Early Head Start?

• Does family engagement and service provision differ in high-risk families?

• What changes do families identify as resulting from their experiences with Head Start and Early Head Start?

In summer 2013, we invited 10 grantees (half providing Head Start services and the other half providing Early Head Start services) to participate in the pilot activities and conducted qualitative interviews with approximately 130 parents and 30 staff, in person and by telephone. The study culminated with (1) a report highlighting the findings that emerge from the pilot data and recommendations for adaptations to instrumentation, training materials, and data collection methods in order for them to be used in future studies; and (2) an instrument package that includes the final instruments, training materials, and coding scheme for the use of the instruments in future studies.