Experiencing Variety and Change in Head Start Parent Involvement Policies and Practices: Personal and Professional and Perspectives

Open Access
Author:
Zeak, Glenna L
Graduate Program:
Curriculum and Instruction
Degree:
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Dissertation
Date of Defense:
September 12, 2006
Committee Members:
  • James Ewald Johnson, Committee Member
  • Patrick Willard Shannon, Committee Member
  • Thomas Daniel Yawkey, Committee Member
  • John Philip Christman, Committee Member
Keywords:
  • Head Start
  • parent involvement
  • resiliency
Abstract:
Abstract Head Start is a forty one year old program, serving children and families living in poverty. Since 1975, Head Start services were planned and implemented in accordance with Head Start Performance Standards, (U. S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1975/1997), which are federal requirements for ensuring that all Head Start families receive comprehensive services in health, nutrition, education, and social services. Parent involvement is at the heart of Head Start. Head Start believes that parents are a child’s must influential teacher, and are to be engaged in program activities and decision-making processes that cultivate positive outcomes in families. This study describes the parent involvement policies and practices of Head Start that foster positive outcomes in families, such as those ascribed to social competency, and in particular those related to social emotional resiliency. Head Start defines social competency as a person’s everyday effectiveness in dealing with their present environment and responsibilities inherent in everyday living (U. S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1997). Resiliency is the process of struggling through hardships that progress by accumulating small successes which occur side by side with failures, setbacks and disappointments and result in a cluster of strengths (Siebert, 1996). Social emotional resiliency speaks to strengths such as self-esteem, self confidence, empathy, hopefulness, helpfulness, determination and persistence. This study also details the barriers that preclude successful parent involvement in Head Start programs. A mixed research approach was utilized, including a literature review, stories of Head Start parents posted on the National Head Start Association (NHSA) website and the Administration for Children and Families (ACYF) Bulletin, my autobiography, document review and interviews with four Blair County Head Start staff, current Blair County Head Start Policy Council parents, and three Head Start Federal Reviewers. Autobiographical data included my reflections as a Head Start parent, teacher, manager, consultant and federal reviewer. The history and development of parent involvement policies and practices of Blair County Head Start were also significant to the data, as it was the program in which I began my experiences with Head Start, and where I continue to serve as a member of the Child Advocates Governing Board. Staff Interviews and document review of the program’s parent involvement policies and practices enabled me to verify my personal recollections of my experiences with Blair County Head Start, in order to examine Head Start strategies for cultivating positive outcomes in families. Literature review detailed the history of Head Start, the Head Start approach to cultivating resiliency, critiques on its parent involvement efforts, longitudinal studies on Head Start impact on families, and perspectives from former Head Start parents. Interviews with current Policy Council Parents provided insight into current policies and practices of Blair County Head Start. A process of comparing results from each of the data sources, autobiography, literature and document review, and interviews with Head Start staff and parents, enabled me to reach three conclusions. The research has led me to conclude that Head Start has a comprehensive plan for fostering positive outcomes in families, and in particular those which foster social-emotional resiliency. This plan is clearly defined in Head Start Performance Standards (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1975/1997). Head Start also has a monitoring system for ensuring that Head Start programs across the nation adhere to Head Start Performance Standards, including those relevant to parent involvement. Additionally, I have concluded that although parents have reported that Head Start has been helpful in addressing family issues and achieving family goals, there remain Head Start programs which continue to struggle with involving families in ways that foster positive outcomes in families. Several barriers to successful parent involvement were identified in researching Head Start parent involvement policies and practices. Some barriers identified were those elicited by Head Start programs, and others were inherent in the lives of families. For example, although Head Start’s services are family centered, Head Start personnel do not always embrace families in ways that nurture parent involvement. Other factors that preclude successful parent involvement include conflicting schedules that occur as more families have been sent into the workforce or into educational endeavors, and rising transportation costs for programs and families. Personal barriers identified by Head Start parents were lack of self confidence and feelings of insecurity about meeting other families and taking on new experiences and challenges. Other parents said they did not participate in program opportunities because they felt hopeless and helpless, while living in the midst of adversity and abuse, and some stated they were not interested in the parent involvement experiences offered. Head Start programs continue to strive to address these barriers, however, much more must be done to examine the most effective practices for successfully involving families in ways which foster positive outcomes in families. A review of parent involvement policies and practices designed to foster positive outcomes in families, and an analysis of barriers that preclude successful parent involvement has led me to four recommendations. First, Head Start should revisit the current definition of parent involvement and redefine it to ensure it speaks to individual family goals. Second, Head Start personnel vary in the way in which they embrace Head Starts family centered approach to involving and engaging families. Therefore, performance evaluation of personnel should reflect these differences, and result in appropriate supports and training where it is as most needed. Additionally, Head Start programs should provide ongoing training and support to Head Start personnel to ensure they are individualizing parent involvement efforts in ways that address each family’s interests, strengths, and goals and in accordance with Head Start Performance Standards (U. S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1997). Finally, Head Start programs must continue to utilize community assessment processes, self assessment, and parent perspectives to inform parent involvement policies and practices. My dissertation shows that Head Start has a plan for responding to the changing needs of families since its birth in 1965, and many Head Start programs have successfully implemented those plans as defined by Head Start Performance Standards (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1975/1997). Head Start also has a comprehensive monitoring system which identifies those programs who do not successfully address parent involvement, as well as all other Head Start Performance Standards, in order to ensure that corrective action is taken, and parents are involved and engaged in ways that foster positive outcomes. Therefore, I believe Head Start will meet the challenge, and ensure that all Head Start programs are successfully involving and engaging families.