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.