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Mel Gravely

ERSEA Cheat Sheet: Recruiting the Neediest Children in Head Start

ERSEA RecruitmentAs part of our ongoing blog series about ERSEA (Eligibility, Recruitment, Selection, Enrollment, Attendance), we’re going to focus on the second part – Recruitment. (See our previous ERSEA cheat sheet blog about Eligibility.)

Head Start Performance Standards, section 1302.13, reads:

“Recruitment of children. In order to reach those most in need of services, a program must develop and implement a recruitment process designed to actively inform all families with eligible children within the recruitment area of the availability of program services, and encourage and assist them in applying for admission to the program. A program must include specific efforts to actively locate and recruit children with disabilities and other vulnerable children, including homeless children and children in foster care.”

How do you recruit? How do you research and reach the neediest children in the community so you can make difference?

Each Head and EHS must have a recruitment process so you can reach families in the community and encourage them to apply. Your recruitment plan needs to be consistent with your community’s goals.

How do you target the neediest population? Here are several ideas.

Special needs children, including those with severe disabilities: Reaching out to this population is a requirement of Head Start. Do you have trouble recruiting children with disabilities for the 10% of your program? Establish a relationship with the early intervention programs and the local DOH in your area for Early Head Start programs. For Head Start, you will need to reach out to the school district, as well as other preschool programs in your area. Establishing a mutual relationship with these entities is vital for every Head Start agency. This can lead to mutual referrals, beneficial for all children.

Think about how you can pool your resources. Can you do a shared teachers training? Can you host informative trainings for parents?

How can you actually meet the needs of special needs children? Will your teachers need additional training? Perhaps some therapists would be willing to provide that.

Linguistic and cultural diverse children: How can you reach the diverse population of today? Try reaching them at community centers and ethnic grocery stores. You can also do a local appearance on radio or TV, highlighting program accomplishments while recruiting. Community and religious organizations may also be another avenue to find a more diverse population. Check out local conferences, festivals, and fairs that attract families and either advertise or hang some fliers.

Homeless: We all would like to help the homeless population, and Head Start could definitely help a family have a better future. Try reaching them at shelters, ads/articles in free newspapers, ads or free events at a local library, soup kitchens, and food pantries.

Your staff may need training on sensitivity to the homeless population, as well as how to meet children’s and family’s needs.

Pregnant women: While many programs have no trouble filling their prenatal program, some programs do need additional recruitment. Try putting out brochures or running informational session at OB/GYNS, hospitals, doctors. Are there other community organizations helping pregnant teens? Work together for a greater impact.

Let’s work together to help the most vulnerable population! How do you recruit the neediest in your community?



  1. Allison Setterlind says:

    Great article and very informative about exactly WHO we should be recruiting for our programs. I would also suggest grantees identify the Continuum of Care that covers their local area. These are community-level collaborative organizations that work together with the government and other non-profit agencies to address housing and the comprehensive needs of people experiencing homelessness. They need to partner with the early childhood agencies in order to support whole family success! It is also a great way to spread the word about your Head Start program and network through non-traditional community partners.

  2. DIANA AVERY says:

    Please assist with Flyers to recruit children with disabilities. All suggestions are welcomed.

    Thanks, Diana Avery

  3. Luz M Munoz says:

    Do recruitment flyers need to mention that transportation is offered?

  4. Melvin Gravely says:

    Thanks for the information Allison

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