Connecting Head Start Families with Peer Support Groups

Unique research-based tool helps identify community needs and while connecting families.

From time to time, Parent Gauge will be featuring special guest blogs from users in the Head Start community who have experienced the power of Parent Gauge. They’ll share with you some of the unique ways that the tool has enabled them to improve their parent engagement efforts. Check out this great story about creative parent engagement at CAP Tulsa!

CAP Tulsa is a nationally recognized provider of research-based, high-quality early education for low-income children from birth through 4-years old. CAP Tulsa continues to evolve to meet the community needs of the vulnerable children and families we serve, believing that promoting the healthy development of young children, in partnership with their parents and caregivers, is the strategy most likely to be effective at breaking the intergenerational cycle of poverty.

CAP Tulsa has approached Parent Gauge and its potential capabilities and benefits, much like we do anything new in our agency, with a testing and piloting mindset. When possible, we test ideas or new products at one school prior to scaling agency-wide. Over the last two years, we’ve implemented Parent Gauge using this phased testing approach. During the ’19-’20 school year, we’ve hit the last phase of testing and are fully deploying the tool as part of a larger cycle of assessments, planning, and action.

At the beginning of this school year, a multi-disciplinary team met to review the results from the previous school year and brainstorm on different strategies to address some of the lower scores on our Parent Gauge assessments. After much discussion, the group decided to first focus on the lowest scoring question in our pilot, ‘I feel connected to other parents and adults.’ Many ideas were circulated, but the one that the group kept coming back to was providing a coffee morning for parents. The group wouldn’t just be providing coffee and space for parents to meet, but the group’s interaction would be facilitated by different members of the agency’s support and leadership team. These facilitators would lead discussions and would use different question prompts to assist conversation and create connections between parents and caregivers.

The idea was seen as informal enough to not cause an undue burden on any group, but also a unique way to address community needs by increasing parents’ social networks and feelings of connectedness to other parents and adults, along with building relationships with school-based staff.

To ensure the team had a documented way to test this change idea, we used the PDSA (Plan-Do-Study-Act) tool to identify our initial hypothesis and predictions of what might happen along with data that showed what actually happened over a six-week period.

To create connections, the initial coffee morning welcomed 18 parents and was then regularly attended by 12 parents who would stay for about an hour every Thursday morning. The final coffee morning before winter break morphed into more of a potluck with homemade biscuits and gravy included. Anecdotally we know that the group has been essential in connecting a previously isolated mother to participating in a parent planning committee at the school. The coffee morning has been a successful strategy to connect some parents and continues to evolve.

In another six-week period, the larger multi-disciplinary team will test having parents facilitate the coffee morning on their own. An agency staff member still turns on the coffee and greets them every Thursday morning because it is an important, simple step in creating a warm and welcoming environment, but parents are directing the conversation and the group on their own. The agency is continuing to think about how best to utilize and leverage this group of parents (that we know is regularly meeting) to help us think about and test different ideas related to family engagement.

Related Content