Icon_ Family Service Credential

Family Service Certification

On-Demand • Online • 40 PD Hours

This certification provides Head Start family service staff with a chance to demonstrate skills that support family engagement and wellbeing.

Head Start programs partner with families in achieving their own goals and supporting their children’s holistic development. The Family Service Certification is designed to test family service staff’s skills in competency areas that align with Head Start’s mission and the expectations of the Head Start Program Performance Standards (HSPPS).

To earn this certification, candidates will be required to complete a portfolio demonstrating their understanding of twelve essential competencies. For each competency, candidates will be asked to provide written responses that detail the knowledge, skills, and abilities needed to fulfill family services objectives in Head Start. You can find an example of an activity you will find within a competency in the corresponding tab.

Although this opportunity is designed to be demonstrative rather than instructive, candidates will have exclusive access to industry experts throughout the experience. There will be weekly, interactive, live coaching sessions hosted by experts who will share answers to common questions and best practices in early childhood education.

The portfolio will take approximately 40 hours to assemble and is a great asset to the candidate’s transcript. Upon completion, the portfolio will be scored by an NHSA-assigned reviewer (noted below) to evaluate the candidate’s knowledge and skills related to the HSPPS for family services. The review process can take up to two months.

To make this experience meaningful to the whole program, NHSA recommends that programs assign a mentor to help guide candidates through the process. View our Mentor’s Guide to Supporting Certification Candidates to learn more. Please note the candidate’s current job supervisor will be required to sign off on the final portfolio.

  • Start Date: On-Demand
  • Course Level: Intermediate
  • Requirements/Prerequisites:
  • Head Start Basics is suggested before taking this certification program. It provides a good overview of how to interact with the HSPPS and a module on parent and family engagement.
  • While no specific experience is required, a minimum of 6 months in your position is strongly recommended. The certification does not include instruction.
  • Target Audience: Support Services
  • Meeting Times: Coaching is provided through weekly live Q&A sessions with an assigned reviewer.
  • Completion Timeline/Duration: Four months for portfolio completion and two months for review and final grade.
  • Head Start Alignment: This course supports programs in meeting standard 1302 Subpart E-Family and Community Engagement Program Services of the HSPPS in which a program must “integrate parent and family engagement strategies into all systems and program services to support family wellbeing and promote children’s learning and development.”

Course Outline

  1. Demonstrate understanding of Head Start’s history, mission, and philosophy.
  2. Exhibit general knowledge of the Head Start program, including Performance Standards, planning, policies, procedures, and monitoring.
  3. Implement an eligibility, recruitment, selection, enrollment, and attendance process that is accessible to children and families who can benefit the most from Head Start services.
  4. Implement health and safety practices and procedures that reduce risk.
  5. Implement the family goals setting process and address family issues.
  6. Empower parents to access community services and resources, and to make successful transitions.
  7. Support communication and community advocacy.
  8. Develop parents’ participation as volunteers and in program governance and parent training.
  9. Support parent and family engagement in education and child development services
  10. Implement parent and family engagement in medical, dental, nutrition, mental health, and special services.
  11. Maintain standards of conduct and professional ethics.
  12. Continue professional development in formal & informal settings.

Example Activity for Portfolio

  • Competency 1: Demonstrate understanding of Head Start history, mission, and philosophy.
  • Function A: Head Start’s history, mission, and philosophy are rooted in the anti-poverty program.
  • Activity C1-FA-A1: Write a brief narrative that articulately describes the history, mission, and philosophy of Head Start. Include in it the roots of the program in the War on Poverty.
  • Sample Answer: Head Start was founded in the summer of 1965 and was part of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s War on Poverty. It started as a summer program. President Johnson convened a panel of child development experts, charging them with developing a program that would provide a “head start” for low-income children and families. Project Head Start was born, and its mission was then and still is, to provide a comprehensive child development program with the overall goal of increasing the social competence of young children in low-income families. Social competence means the child’s everyday effectiveness in dealing with both his/her present environment and later responsibilities in school and life, according to the Head Start Program Performance Standards. Social competence takes into account that social, emotional, cognitive, and physical development are all related. Head Start has always been a family-centered program, recognizing that children develop within the family, cultural, and community environments. It is also the Head Start philosophy that parents are the first and primary teachers and nurturers of their children. By the early 1970s, most programs had converted to a school calendar, or to full-year programs. Today, Head Start is a program for low-income families with children birth to five, since Early Head Start came into being in the mid-1990s. The Head Start Program Performance Standards have also been revised from many “components” to three major service delivery areas: Early Childhood Development & Health, Family & Community Partnerships, and Program Design & Management. The dedication of parents’ and staff’s letters and testimonials have done much to keep Head Start alive and well for over half a century. The National Head Start Association also has provided strong advocacy and public relations for the program nationwide.

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Download the Syllabus 


40 Hours of Course Material

Online, Self-Paced Content

Months of Access to Course

Video Content
Discussion Forums
Digital Badge
Certificate of Completion with PD Hours
24/7 Access to Transcript

Course Author



With nearly 50 years of experience, research, and advocacy work, The Academy Team at NHSA has used the highest standards to create this course to support the professional growth and development of Head Start and Early Head Start staff and leadership across the country.

Featured Experts

Donita Brunson

Donita Brunson

Donita Vaughn-Brunson has worked in family services with Head Start for nearly three decades, training staff in areas of family engagement, eligibility services, home-visiting, cultural diversity, and mentoring/coaching. In addition to grading NHSA’s Family Service Credential portfolios, she is certified to train the Exploring Parenting 21 st Century program and Conscious Discipline Parenting Education Curriculum. Donita is passionate about supporting families in becoming self-sufficient.

Sara Langi

Sara Langi

Sara Langi is part of a Head Start/Early Head Start program in sunny Florida. She holds a Bachelor's in Sociology and Master's in Educational Leadership from Grand Canyon University. Sara has vast experience coaching staff utilizing the PFCE Framework and navigating the family partnership process. Sara has also earned NHSA’s Family Service Credential and is eager to support others through the process.

What learners are saying...

"This was a great credential, it makes you really think of all the things that as a family service provider you do for all the families on your caseload." - Yomaira Robles-Vazquez, Head Start Of Northeastern Nevada

"I have learned a lot from completing the Family Service Certification. I had to research throughout my experience several competencies but in the end, it taught me a lot about our program." - Misty Brown, MountainHeart Community Services, Inc

"It has been a pleasure taking this credential class. It enhances my tools to become a better social worker and be able to put more effort when working with my families." - Alie Fabius-Jean, East Orange Child Development Center