Model Family Needs
Assessment Process
User's Manual 
Prepared for:
The Department of Health and Human Services
Administration for Children, Youth and Families
Head Start Bureau
Development Associates, Inc.
2924 Columbia Pike
Arlington, Virginia 22204
February 1986



A number of caring and committed individuals have significantly contributed to the conceptualization, design and development of the Model Family Needs Assessment. Key among the principal contributors to this effort was Dr. Shirley J. Jones, Dean of the School of Social Work at the University of Southern Mississippi. Dr. Jones initially conceptualized and developed the Model Family Needs Assessment instruments and processes for use in the Head Start Programs. She also acted as an advisor, critical reviewer, trainer, and friend to staff assigned to this project.

Special thanks and special recognition should also be given to Howrd Fleischman and Dr. Gerry Hanberry of Development Associates for their major written contributions, guidance and unending patience in refining the FNA instruments and Users Manual. Ruth Foote, Family Services Coordinator of the Southern Tri-County Maryland Community Action Agency and special consultant to this project, also deserves special thanks. Ruth helped to translate good ideas into practical approaches and techniques for enhancing social service delivery to Head Start families.

Sincere appreciation and grateful acknowledgement should also be given to the following nine Read Start programs who participated in the pilot test of these documents:

Region I: Pat Finn
                Coastal Economic Development
                Bath, ME

Region II: Ellen Bullock
                Concerned Citizens for Head Start, Inc.
                Patterson, NJ

Region III: Sally Layton
                  Cambria County Head Start
                  Johnstown, PA

Region V: Margaret Rapach
                 Cincinnati-Hamilton County Head Start
                  Cincinnati, OH

Region VI: Virginia Newton
                  Morehouse Community Improvement
                  Bastrop, LA

Region VII: Sue Potter
                   Drake University
                   Des Moines, IO

Region VIII: Marsha Hardman
                     Granite School District
                     Salt Lake City, UT

Region IX: Wyoma Lewis
                   Fresno Community Action
                   Fresno, CA

American Indian Program Division
                   Bessie McCabe
                   Navajo Head Start
                   Fort Defiance, AZ

Finally, the staff of this project are grateful to Dr. Trellis Waxler of the Department of Realth and Human Services, Read Start Bureau, for her support and active participation in this project and her commitment to enhancing the delivery of social services to Read Start children and their families.
Loretta Ruth Johnston
Project Director
Development Associates, Inc.


Over the years the Head Start Bureau has engaged in a number of important initiatives designed to enhance the capacity of families to achieve their goals and aspirations. Key among these initiatives was the Child and Family Resource Program (CFRP) in which selected Head Start grantees used a Model Family Needs Assessment Process with families in their programs. Evaluations of the CFRP experiment indicated that the use of the Model Family Needs Assessment Process was one of the most successful aspects of the project. As a result, in 1983 the Head Start Bureau, through a collaborative effort with the Region IV Head Start Office, awarded a grant to Dr. Shirley Jones of the University of Southern Mississippi to develop a Model Family Needs Assessment (FNA) instrument and process which eventually could be used by Head Start grantees nationwide to improve their services to families and children. The Model Family Needs Assessment Process described in this Manual is a refinement of Dr. Jones' work, following a field test by Development Associates, Inc., of her original process.

The purposes of the FNA, as described in the Social Services Performance Standards, are to identify the interests, desires, goals, needs and strengths of the family, and to help Head Start staff determine how Head Start can best work with the family to attain self-sufficiency. The process is designed to facilitate the provision of social services to Head Start families as outlined in A Guide for Providing Social Services in Head Start. Thus, the FNA provides a vehicle for assisting the family in their own efforts to improve their condition and quality of family life.

The Model Family Needs Assessment Process is a tool for collecting information efficiently and effectively and for helping Head Start programs plan and provide services to enrolled families. The Model Family Needs Assessment Process is designed to help Head Start staff and the family to work as a team in order to identify and obtain appropriate resources and services. It is important for Head Start staff to remember that all family information collected during the Family Needs Assessment Process is confidential in nature and should only be released after written authorization has been given to Head Start program staff by the family. Additionally, all FNA records should maintained in locked files.

There are two important concepts to think about when using the Model Family Needs Assessment Process: client participation and client growth and development.

Participation is one of the basic needs of all individuals, families, groups, and communities. As such, participation in this process engages the family in making decisions and taking actions about their own lives. This process can also help the family gain a greater sense of responsibility and empowerment with regard to their future. The dynamic nature of the process facilitates family growth and development, which enables people who often feel powerless to take greater control over their own lives.

Head Start staff also benefit from participating in the Model Family Needs Assessment Process. For example, the process enables the staff to do a better job of assisting families to develop their own short-range and long-range plans. This planning utilizes networking strategies by encouraging the use of other Head Start services, community outreach, and referral to other agencies.

Head Start staff must recognize that teamwork and mutual regard between himself/herself and family members will not be automatic. Building of relationships is a part of the growth and development process for both the Head Start staff members and the family.

Completing forms and helping families to secure information are not new activities for Head Start social service workers. However, the uniqueness of the Model Family Needs Assessment Process is the "mind set" that it provides. The "mind set" is an underpinning for the overall process, and is rooted in the view that assessment is a process rather than a mere task of data gathering. Central to the concept is the notion of teamwork between Head Start staff and family, which is created and fostered through mutual participation in the assessment process. The interaction between family and staff further encourages the development of relationships, which in turn leads to improvement and more effective change for Read Start families.

The Model Family Needs Assessment Process involves the seven key steps shown on Exhibit 1. These steps include:

To carry out the above steps, six forms have been designed to assist the Head Start worker and the family. These forms are the: The purposes and procedures of the Model Family Needs Assessment Process as well as the content of the FNA forms are discussed in detail in the following chapter of this manual.


The seven steps of the Model FNA Process as shown on Exhibit 1 require three basic actions. These are:

Starting requires the Head Start worker to establish positive relationships with the family. Planning involves the completion of the family profile, family needs survey, family goals sheet, and family assistance plan. Action on the plan is taken by the Head Start worker and family members to implement the family assistance plan and subsequently to monitor and evaluate family progress.

Six forms have been developed to help carry out the Model FNA Process. These forms and their relationships to one another are discussed below.


The Intake/Family Profile is a four-page form on which a description of each Head Start family can be recorded. The profile includes basic demographic data on each family member, and information on health, income, education, employment, housing, transportation, and information on the aspirations, strengths, and resources of the family.

The objective of the staff Intake/Family Profile is to describe the family and its members so that the Head Start staff can be sufficiently familiar with the family before beginning detailed discussions of family needs and goals. The completion of the Intake/Family Profile also provides an opportunity to establish a positive rapport and trusting relationship between the family and the Head Start worker so that needs and goals can be discussed openly and honestly.
Programs may choose to use the entire Intake/Family Profile during the intake process, or just use selected items. If only selected items are completed during intake, then the remainder of the form should be completed early in the program year before the Family Needs Form and Family Goals Sheet are begun.

The data for the Intake/Family Profile may be obtained from several sources. Some information may be transferred from the recruitment form used by programs to establish eligibility for enrollment in Head Start. Thus, the information obtained on the child and family during the recruitment process may be thought of as the first step in building the family profile. Other data may be obtained from the records of siblings who have been enrolled in Head Start previously. The remaining data should be collected from interviews with family members either during home visits or at the Head Start center.

In filling out the Intake/Family Profile, it is important to obtain as complete information as possible. If additional matters about the family and its members are raised by the family which seem important but do not pertain to the Intake/Family Profile, do not ignore these but take good notes since these may be useful later in the overall FNA process.


The Family Needs Form is a document for recording the needs of Head Start families. A need is a condition in which there is a lack of something which is essential or strongly desired. Since a need often suggests a sense of urgency, it is frequently something which must be met immediately.

The Family Needs Form is structured into ten areas as follows:

In completing the Family Needs Form, the staff member should discuss each of the above areas with appropriate family members by asking if the family or any individual has any needs in each area. Both long-term and short-term needs should be identified. For those areas in which a family member expresses a need, check the box marked "yes" and discuss and record on the form a description of the need in as much detail as appropriate.

After going through each of the areas (using the "other" category to record needs which cannot be categorized into the specified areas), discuss with family members the possibility of classes or courses provided by Head Start which can help a family meet one or more of its needs.

To complete the Family Needs Form, the staff member should speak to as many family members as possible. In taking notes during the discussion, be sure to identify the family member expressing each need, and the family member(s) to which the need refers. The discussion should be informal and non-threatening. A positive rapport must be established in order for the family members to trust Head Start staff sufficiently to be open and truthful with the family's problems and needs. The staff member must also treat the family with respect and be as non-judgmental as possible. The Head Start staff member should take detailed notes on what family members say and be careful not to misinterpret things or make false assumptions. Also, the staff member should ask the family to clarify any points that are confusing. Discussions with several family members and observations during home visits can confirm or clarify needs expressed by individual family members.

The Family Goals Sheet is a tool for documenting family goals. A goal is something which a person or family strives to attain. Some of the goals which family members express may derive from the needs specified in completing the Family Needs Form. Other goals may be independent of the needs. In the later case, goals are more future oriented as opposed to crisis oriented which require immediate action.

Family goals should be described in the first column of the Family Goals Sheet. In the second column, those goals which the family chooses to address should be checked and target dates for attaining these goals listed. Then, family strengths which can be helpful in achieving each goal should be identified in the third column. Finally, community resources needed to help achieve each goal should be listed in the last column. Use as many sheets as necessary for each family.


The information on the Family Goals Sheet is to be used in conjunction with the Intake/Family Profile and Needs Form to complete the Family Assistance Plan.

The Family Assistance Plan (PAP) is a tool for helping the family decide what specific actions or strategies need to be taken to resolve their needs and to achieve the goals specified in the Family Goals Sheet. The FAP is also designed to help identify who will take action and when the action is to be taken. The information in the FAP consists of decisions made by the Head Start family about how to meet their needs and achieve their goals. There are two major sections in the Family Assistance Plan:

The Plan of Action asks the family to shift from thinking and talking about their needs, problems, strengths and goals to acting on their goals. The main purpose of the Plan of Action is to identify the specific actions and strategies the family can take. Specific plans of action will need to be developed for each family goal which the family chooses to work on. If appropriate, separate FAP Sheets can be used for each goal or need.

The second section of the FAP, Accomplishments, serves as the space to record results and accomplishments, and the next action(s) or follow-up step(s) to be taken.

The four main purposes for the Accomplishments section of the Family Assistance Plan are to:

There are several important features of FAP. One of the most important involves watching how one action creates new opportunities or problems. How the family responds or reacts to the consequences of their own actions is very important in the process. A second feature involves giving feedback or providing reinforcement. The staff member should provide encouragement to the family for any achievement, regardless of how minor it might seem. The staff member should record such achievements or accomplishments on the Family Contact Sheet.

Another important feature is the need to recognize that goals can be changed by the family. They are not written in concrete terms. One or more of the original goals might be totally unrealistic. The resources to accomplish the goals might not be available, no matter what occurs. Plans often fail because they are too ambitious for the family's resources. To start, it is preferable to emphasize strategies that have some degree of "built-in success." The staff member needs to listen for such success-oriented possibilities when they are helping the family complete the plan.

The staff member and the family should work together to complete the PAP. Care must be taken so that the family does not become totally dependent on the staff member. The family must act as much as possible on their own goals. Each staff member will find his/her unique way of getting started with the process of leading the family members toward developing their plan of action. The family assistance plan, then, becomes an agreement between the family and the Head Start staff on how to use the whole process in a mutual and participatory manner.

The purpose of this checklist is to assess the progress family members have made towards reaching their goals. The attainment level of each goal should be rated using the five-point scale shown in the left column of the form. This is to be done by making a checkmark in one of the boxes under the area most appropriate for that goal. If more than one goal falls in a particular area, identify the different goals by writing the name of the family member for which each goal applies, or by writing the key words for each goal, in the box next to the checkmark.

Ideally, the Head Start staff member and the family should assess progress and make the ratings together. In this manner, the family and staff member can discuss the family accomplishments and additional needs and goals that the family wishes to address.

The Family Goal Attainment Checklist should be completed at the end of the Head Start year at the very least. However, it is recommended it be discussed and filled out periodically throughout the year whenever the staff member meets with the family to discuss the Family Assistance Plan, and the family's needs, goals, and achievements. The checklist can be used to direct and motivate the family towards working in a positive direction towards their desired goals.


This form is to be used by Head Start staff to make notes on their meetings and conversations with families. The notes should become part of the official family file so that if a worker leaves or is given another assignment, his/her replacement will be able to read the notes and familiarize himself/herself with each family situation.

The staff member should make sure to record the family name at the top of each page, and, for each contact with the family, record the date and check the type of contact (phone, office/center, home visit). Then the staff member should summarize the major points discussed and the outcome of the meeting or conversation. The notes need not be overly detailed, but a record of the most important points of the conversation should be helpful to the staff member. Before each scheduled meeting with a family, the staff member should review the family file, including the contact notes, so that time with the family may be used advantageously. (See the appendix on page 15 which describes the time frame for implementing FNA forms and procedures.)


Information gathering is a basic part of the FNA process. Once the staff member has the information to answer the variety of questions listed, the staff member can assist the family in deciding what the information means to them and what to do next. It is important to keep information separate from judgments about what it means. Important points to remember include the following:


It is recommended in the guidance section of the Performance Standards for providing social services to Head Start families that a family profile and a family assistance plan be developed for each family enrolled in the program. However, many programs are unable to meet this demand due to limited staff. In order to achieve this important program goal, Head Start programs may decide to involve other component staff besides the social service staff to complete parts of the Model Family Needs Assessment Process. If programs choose to do so, all staff members must clearly understand the Model FNA Process and the importance of the team approach to program planning. This approach requires that Head Start programs:

Cross Component Planning encourages a team planning procedure that includes representatives from all program components. It evolves from outlined services to parents indicated in the Head Start Performance Standards. The procedure avoids duplication of services to families and, therefore, maximizes the use of staff time and enhances the delivery of services to families in a timely manner.

The social service staff should retain primary responsibility for working with families to identify and assess their needs and goals, and to develop the Family Action Plan. However, the teaching and health staff can assist in the overall process. All program staff will still be charged with the responsibility of insuring that the quality of services is retained and that confidentiality and the dignity of family values are respected. However, the program must decide "Who, When, and How" it will be done.

The team approach brings together component coordinators to develop objectives and one set of strategies for families who have several major problems. The Intake/Family Profile, case and health history information about the child's behavior, absenteeism, and brainstorming among staff members help staff to set realistic objectives regarding what Head Start and the community can offer the family. The strategies developed during team meetings should recognize the family's strengths and abilities to obtain needed services, identify community resources and utilize special services available in the community.

In utilizing Cross Component Planning and the team approach in implementing the Model Family Needs Assessment Process, staff skills are essential in several specific areas. These areas include:

Staff training may be necessary if staff skills and experience are lacking in these areas.
Model Time Frame For Using Forms With The Family
April to August
Intake/recruitment for Head Start Programs 

Parents advised that upon approval into the program that additional information will be needed to support the child and the family.

Staff completes the intake/Family Profile Form Staff administers the Family Needs and Goals Forms 

(Home Visits)

Staff administers the Family Needs and Goals Forms 

Staff and families develope family assistance plans 

(Home Visits) 

Staff monitors family progress Staff list accomplishments 
and services completed for and by the family. 
Staff and family evaluation of needs, goals and services attained Staff and family revise the needs and goals forms 

Intake/Family profile should be updated

Staff lists accomplishments and services completed Staff and family reassess and established higher level goals for next year using the completed Needs Form and Family Goals sheet 

(Home Visits)

Staff assess and plan for family return to the program
 Time frame will be determined by number of children in the program, the number of head Start staff involved in the forms completion process, and the Head Start program year.