At the end of the second quarter of 2014, the Head Start Program serving the City of Trenton expanded into a comprehensive child development organization serving the health, education, disabilities and social service needs of families living in poverty. The board and executive staff of the former Trenton Head Start intuitively and methodically understood the importance of engaging families and children beyond the preschool years; learned during their 47 year history of providing services to Trenton children and families.
A pilot sample of 139 families who exited Trenton Head Start and enrolled their children in local kindergartens effective September 2014 were outreached to and encouraged to participate in focus groups and surveys to provide proof of concept. The dialogue that occurred during the focus groups was informative, compelling and evidence of the model's significance, relevance and necessity. Some initial impressions derived from the focus group and completed surveys indicated:
- Parents demonstrate a willingness to participate with their peers in developing skills that would reinforce leadership of family achievement goals;
- Parents are actively aware of setting individual academic and training goals as a means to set an example and motivate the achievement of their children;
- Parents are willing to participate in activities that are not mandated when they add value and bring meaning to their roles and the lives of the individuals in their family;
- Parents provide clear contrasts between training activities to support the parenting role and enrichment activities to support the family milieu. This indicates an interest and demand for activities and goal planning in each area.
In response to these findings, the Center for Child and Family Achievement (CCFA) became a program model in 2014. Today the program is operational with 26 families and 70 children participating in programs and activities prescribed by the model and informed by ongoing engagement of families and best practices. For every six families there is a cohort leader that maintains and ongoing query and by way of engagement, the need for service plan adjustments and overall, the effectiveness of the model. Evaluation at critical milestones helps CCFA to measure whether successful acquisition of particular skills and knowledge has occurred and whether educational plan objectives are being met. In our most robust application, CCFA builds the capacity of parents and guardians to actively participate in an informed way, and intentionally guide, within a framework of support and resources, the academic success of their children.
The CCFA approach creates logical and gradual progressions of achievement producing behaviors that become actualized for each unique family. Social science research over the past decades, has suggested that family structure affects children's school outcomes, from preschool to college. Early childhood education studies also indicate that when a low-income minority child begins kindergarten, there are major disparities. The data also indicates variations in school performance could be explained, in part or in whole, by the differences in family resources, such as time and money, family dynamics and parental characteristics that are associated with various family forms. These are mediating factors, or mechanisms, through which family structure affects schooling outcomes. Family structure may also exert a direct influence, independent of mediating factors. To streamline parental decision making while undergirding family achievement skill and values, CCFA emphasizes:
Outreach and Engagement The agency provides ongoing contact and inquiries with parents and guardians to determine interest, availability, participation and accountability for focus groups, special events, cultural and performing arts, book fairs, library visits, Disney Live, family fun nights, nature walks/camping, museum visits and other exposure designed, skill building and intergenerational outings.
Child/Family Assessment and Enrollment Eligibility CCFA uses a variety of methods to evaluate, measure and document academic readiness, learning progress and skill acquisition of CCFA family achievement students and families from preschool through college and adulthood. Our method emphasizes a case management approach by family cohort team leaders to determine individualized levels of need within families for the acquisition of particular skills and knowledge, toward increased positive outcomes in child and family achievement.
Parent Advocacy and Leadership Training Involves teaching parent advocacy, avocations for maximum resources, and services to ensure child optimal performance in alignment with the directives and needs of the family service plan.
Family Achievement Cohorts Designed to create small family support groups who come together around a similar mission of educational achievement for the child and later, for his/her siblings. Parents will be encouraged to focus on furthering their educational achievement, utilizing the family service plan's identified goals and relevant activities. The cohort assists parents to identify and organize family achievement priorities around local resources, and the family achievement community of child learners and their families.
The CCFA model is conceptually designed to impact the achievement gap in the City of Trenton. It is premised on providing a longitudinal support system, outcomes-based methodology and evidence-based practice, that will deliver a dynamic continuum of academic and social service resources for the entire family.
Our continuum of services provides a suite of case managed interventions that include, but are not limited to:
- Individualized and family educational planning
- Child and family enrichment services
- Behavioral healthcare referrals
- Parent academic and job coaching
- Educational enrichment activities for children and families
- Parent advocacy leadership training
- Developing a family support network
Partner organizations in conjunction with family cohort team leaders work to supervise client referrals and strategic engagement to augment and undergird the alignment and impact of services. The model includes the development of memorandums of understanding with each partner to ensure agreed upon protocols that programmatically support implementation and effectiveness. It also addresses the fact that children of economically and socially challenged parents require a unique mix of wholly integrated structural supports. The administration of these supports is managed by a project director and four family cohort team leaders, who under the leadership of the chief executive, work in partnership with each family and in tandem with our strategic partners, to execute our services and family achievement impact.