Promising Practices Program

Administering Organization

Arizona Refugee Resettlement Program

Program Name

Arizona Head Start Pilot Project

Program Objectives and Unique Needs Addressed

This pilot project is a collaborative effort to increase refugee families' meaningful participation in Early Head Start (EHS) and Head Start (HS) programs in Arizona.

Program Description

In Maricopa County, the primary pilot site, the City of Phoenix Human Services Department (CPHSD), Maricopa County Human Services (MCHS), and Southwest Human Development (SWHD) fund a variety of Early Head Start and Head Start (EHS/HS) programs.  These grantees are working with the Arizona Refugee Resettlement Program (RRP), refugee resettlement agencies (VOLAGS), Mutual Assistance Associations (MAAs), refugee families and community stakeholders (such as schools and child and family service providers) to increase refugee family participation in EHS/HS programs.

At the beginning of the project, Head Start and Refugee Resettlement stakeholders worked together and identified the following barriers to meaningful refugee participation in Head Start: 

  • Limited transportation to EHS/HS
  • EHS/HS class schedules, such as half-day classes, that do not adequately correspond to parents' self-sufficiency efforts
  • Limited EHS/HS slots leading to waiting lists
  • Limited EHS/HS enrollment window throughout the year
  • Language barriers, such as lack of interpretation and translation for services offered
  • Inadequate information about EHS/HS services available to refugee families
  • Inadequate information on diverse child rearing practices available to EHS/HS staff

The pilot project implemented the following practical solutions in response to the identified service gaps.  


  • Opening a S H EHS/HS site near an apartment complex where refugee families live.  
  • Resettlement agencies resettling refugee families in areas where there is easy access to EHS/HS programs.  This has been aided by HS sharing corresponding zip code catchment areas.   

Half-day classes  

  • Sharing information with refugee families and refugee resettlement agencies about an existing EHS/HS center with full-day programs.          

Limited slots  

All three grantees agreed to work on strategies to both assess need and increase families' likelihood of successfully navigating the waiting list.  For example:    

  • Because EHS/HS programs enroll families using a point system, some grantees are reconsidering how refugee families are assessed by adding points for refugee status that move refugees higher up on the waiting list.  Refugee families also benefit from the three grantees awarding points to applicants speaking a language other than English, as well as points for Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) recipients.   
  • Refugee resettlement programs and Mutual Assistance Associations (MAAs) are encouraging parents to enroll children ages 0-3 in EHS.  All children enrolled in EHS have priority over those on the waiting list for HS programs enrollment.  

Limited enrollment window  

  • Because EHS enrolls children year-round, families with children ages 0-3 can enroll upon arrival, increasing their likelihood of being accepted into HS at age four.  
  • Refugee resettlement agencies will encourage refugee families to get on the HS waiting list as soon as they arrive.  
  • All project stakeholders have agreed to inform parents about EHS/HS recruitment periods.  

Language barriers/lack of interpreters  

  • EHS/HS will recruit and train refugees to be teacher aides, and interpreters may be used from refugee communities.   
  • EHS/HS, RRP, and refugee resettlement agencies have involved parents as volunteers and will refer refugees as potential teacher aide candidates.  
  • Some EHS/HS programs and MAAs have translated EHS/HS materials.  

Refugee families lack adequate information about HS, and HS staff need more information on diverse child rearing practices  

  • HS and resettlement agencies have conducted outreach sessions with refugee families about HS, focusing on residential areas where there are larger concentrations of refugees.
  • The pilot project has also used numerous collaboration and outreach strategies:  
  • The various grantees, RRP, refugee resettlement agencies, and other stakeholders meet monthly to identify needs, assets and practical solutions.  RRP staff provide guidance.
  • EHS/HS programs are recruiting interested refugee volunteers to fulfill their TANF work participation requirements.  
  • Resettlement programs have provided cultural training to EHS/HS staff.
  • MAAs have become involved in EHS/HS outreach to refugees, including assisting with pre-registration.  
  • RRP and refugee resettlement agencies conducted site visits to EHS/HS programs.
  • Outreach is conducted where refugees live.  
  • Outreach flyers have been translated into common languages that refugees speak.

Resource Materials Used in Program

RRP, in collaboration with EHS/HS and VOLAGs, has developed a video that explores how both EHS/HS and refugee resettlement programs can work together for the common good of refugee families. The video highlights the critical importance and advantages of collaboration between service providers.

Groups Served by Program

The pilot program targets newly arrived refugee families, and those families transitioning from TANF who are interested in going to work but who have no childcare for their children. All other interested refugees can participate if they meet the program requirements and federal income guidelines.  

Refugees participate on a voluntary basis.  The top arrival refugee groups for FFY 2012 and 2013 are Bhutanese, Burmese, Congolese, Cubans, Iraqis and Somalis. There are currently over 1,500 refugee children aged 0-5 living in Arizona.

Program Funding

The program is partially funded through a collaboration between BRYCS and the Arizona Refugee Resettlement Program (RRP).  BRYCS provided short-term support to RRP as a pilot site with funding from the National Center on Cultural and Linguistic Responsiveness, a Federal Office of Head Start national technical assistance provider. See BRYCS' Head Start Collaboration page for more information. 

Program Staffing and Required Staff Training

The program uses existing staff at the Arizona Refugee Resettlement program.  Plans are underway to increase staffing by using AmeriCorps VISTA volunteers.

Program Evaluation

Program evaluations will be conducted in June 2013 at the end of the school year.  Currently RRP is documenting the following:

  • Cultural and linguistic concerns by volags and refugee parents, especially around child discipline and child parenting practices.
  • Groups of refugees enrolled in HS programs; for example, how many of a particular refugee population are enrolled in each program.
  • Number of refugees who complete the HS application process.
  • Number of families on waiting lists and the number of refugee families who complete the application process but do not make it to the enrolled list.
  • Reasons refugee families enrolled in the program but then dropped out.
  • Number of refugees enrolled in home-based and center-based programs
  • Number of refugee families receiving mental health and disability services.
  • Number of refugee families receiving half-day or full-day services.
  • Number of refugees obtaining employment as a result of participating in HS programs, and type of employment obtained.
  • Number of refugees employed in HS programs.
  • Challenges reported by HS staff with specific refugee situations or populations.
  • Challenges reported by refugee parents about HS.  Staff training needs and challenges.

Program Outcomes

Between March and August 2012, 132 refugee families were enrolled in the EHS and HS programs, with 113 currently participating in the program.

Additional Comments

EHS/HS has been able to identify approaches to supporting refugee families in ways that are consistent with the refugee resettlement agency-administered self-sufficiency plans required by the Department of State's U.S. Refugee Program. This has been facilitated by involving relevant stakeholders from the onset of the project and ensuring that mutual goals are shared and strategies developed to meet common interests and needs.  There has been a great emphasis on sharing information and trainings, partnering in outreach activities, working with MAAs, and maintaining a committed and consistent working group.

Program Contact

Arizona Head Start Association
(602) 338-0449

Program Dates

This pilot program started in December 2011 and is still operating as of January 2013.