Community action professionals who sign up for NCCAA’s Case Management or Head Start Family Engagement certificate programs may now qualify for continuing education units (CEUs). Working with i50 Consulting Services, the administrative partner that handles non-teaching activities like course registration, NCCAA’s certificate courses now comply with CEU standards from the International Accreditors for Continuing Education and Training.
That means students in these affordable online classes may be able to apply as many as 3.5 hours of CEUs to requirements from associations, licensing boards, and other organizations that expect professional development to be part of the job. The courses may also qualify for college credit at some institutions of higher learning. “The hours don’t automatically transfer, but certain colleges and universities do accept and would allow credits in our programs to apply toward a student’s coursework,” said Nafia Speach, NCCAA training coordinator.
Head of the class
Speach said she isn’t aware of any other organization offering courses like the Head Start Family Engagement and Case Management certificate programs NCCAA offers. “Some of our national partners have mentioned that we’re the only ones doing this,” she explained, adding that the program started with the Head Start training and came out of a need to give Head Start staffers, people who may or may not have advanced degrees, a way to comply with program performance standards.
Specifically, Head Start officials mandated in 2016 that staffers must have earned some sort of credential or certificate in social work, human and family services, counseling, or some related field within 18 months of their hire dates. Realizing that an affordable, program-focused curriculum wasn’t available at the time, NCCAA gathered feedback from Head Start experts and designed a program tailored specifically to the needs of Head Start workers.
“We worked with Head Start leaders from across the nation, including people who served on the board of the National Head Start Association,” Speach said. “They gave us a step-by-step guide of what was needed.”
Built around an eight-week schedule, the program covers the history of Head Start programs so workers have a baseline knowledge of the program’s background and goals. That’s week one. From there, students learn about working with families in need, how to build family engagement and solidify relationships with parents, as well as the basics of case management, which Speach says is important because people with kids in Head Start programs often are accessing other services at community action agencies.
There also is a module on “family partnership agreements,” which Speach says involves developing family goals for children and plotting an action plan to achieve those goals. In addition, students learn about maintaining safety in home visits. And, finally, there’s a module titled “taking good care,” which covers the stress of working with people in need who are often struggling with huge life challenges.
Speach said that COVID-19 made self-care all the more important for people working in Head Start programs and community action agencies.
“COVID saw an explosion of poverty across the country,” she noted. “Even now, we’re all dealing with an increase in demand for agency services because some of the COVID legislation upped the income limits on whom we can serve. All of our agencies are slammed, and they’re often dealing with people in crisis. That can take a toll on an agency worker’s mental health.”
Today, the NCCAA’s Head Start course is known nationwide and draws students from all over the country. It grows mostly through word of mouth, but Speach added that COVID-19 gave the program a boost because many agencies that had Head Start staff sidelined by lockdowns used the downtime to give their people extra training through this course. Speach also said agency directors sometimes take the class to see if they should share it with their team. “It’s always incredible when we get seasoned Head Start professionals who say they learned new things and got a great refresher course.”
In any case
The other certificate course NCCAA offers is Case Management, and it was prompted by feedback from participants in the Head Start class. “We always ask for feedback at the end of a class, and case management is something many people wanted to see added to our training,” Speach said.
This course was designed to meet national standards associated with Community Service Block Grant reporting requirements. Like the Head Start class, the Case Management program is designed to be completed in eight weeks and covers a wide range of topics, including some of the basics covered by the Head Start class, such as foundations of practice, working with families in need, and client empowerment. Additional to this offering is a module on Results-Oriented Management and Accountability, as well as modules on safety, reporting, and conducting family-level needs assessments. The final module in this eight-week course looks at navigating conflict and, like the Head Start course, there’s material on the importance of self-care.
As Speach noted, working with people who are in crisis is stressful and draining. “You can’t pour from an empty cup. Community action workers have a lot they need to pour out every day,” she said. “Self-care is essential to wellness.”