Recruitment, Selection, Enrollment, and Retention Strategies with Head Start-Eligible Families Experiencing Adversity: A Review of the Literature

Recruitment, Selection, Enrollment, and Retention Strategies with Head Start-Eligible Families Experiencing Adversity: A Review of the Literature

OPRE Report #2022-97
Published: May 31, 2022
Publisher: Washington, DC: Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Cassandra Baxter

Cathy Ayoub

Joanne Roberts

Christina Mondi-Rago

McMillan Ilderton Gaither

Key Findings
  • There is limited ECE literature on RSER strategies with families experiencing the adversities examined in this literature synthesis. Studies predominantly focus on recruitment and retention strategies for families experiencing poverty (or with low incomes). Very few focus on enrollment and selection strategies, and only a limited number focus on families affected by substance use. Few studies examine factors shaping programs’ use of RSER strategies, but several examine family factors that may have implications for the RSER strategies that programs use and the potential effectiveness of those strategies. There is limited empirical evidence indicating which strategies might be most effective.
  • In some instances, the factors that may shape the RSER strategies appropriate for families overlap across families experiencing different adversities. For example, logistical barriers, such as high mobility, may greatly shape the program participation of families experiencing homelessness and those involved in foster care or the child welfare system, and in turn the RSER strategies that programs use. Social connections within programs may also be important for retaining families.
  • In other instances, these factors may be unique to families experiencing specific adversities. For example, the lack of local treatment programs and stigma attached to substance use issues can make it difficult for programs to identify and retain these families.
  • Promising RSER approaches also often overlap, regardless of the adversity experienced by families. For example, creating a welcoming and inclusive environment and building high quality relationships between families and staff are important for all families. Social networks may be especially useful for recruiting both families experiencing poverty and those experiencing homelessness. Staff training and professional development on the experience of homelessness and child welfare involvement likely support RSER for these populations. Strong community partnerships also appear important for the RSER process with families experiencing homelessness, those involved in the foster care and child welfare systems, and those affected by substance use issues.
  • In some instances, promising strategies are unique to a family's experience of adversity. For example, screening and data collection tools may be especially helpful for RSER with families involved in the foster care and child welfare systems. Specialized services and supports likely are also important for RSER with families affected by substance use issues.

This literature review aims to understand who is and is not being served by Head Start among families experiencing adversity; the range of recruitment, selection, enrollment, and retention (RSER) strategies that programs use with families experiencing adversity; the factors that shape the use of RSER strategies; and the effectiveness of specific strategies with these populations. The review also reveals gaps in knowledge and opportunities for future research related to the RSER strategies that support families experiencing adversity. It explores how commonly families eligible for Head Start experience specific adversities, how more than one of those adversities can be faced simultaneously by the same family (that is, co-occur), and the factors that help determine how families experience those adversities.

Executive Summary

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