On September 27, 2022, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families (ACF) Office of Head Start (OHS) issued Information Memorandum (IM) ACF-IM-HS-22-07 on Reporting Child Health and Safety Incidents. This IM clarifies the requirements of 45 CFR §1302.102(d)(1)(ii) for reporting significant incidents regarding the health and safety of children in Head Start programs and was issued without the agency engaging in the notice and comment process under the Administrative Procedure Act.
The current regulatory provision, which was initially issued in 2016 Final Rule of the Head Start Program Performance Standards (HSPPS) requires programs to report “as appropriate to the responsible U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) official immediately or as soon as practicable…”
The vague and open-ended language gave programs flexibility to tailor their reporting practices to the unique characteristics and circumstances of their program, but at the same time left many questions on how to define important terms like “appropriate,” “as soon as practicable,” and “significant.” These questions were often particularly troubling due to the fear that regional offices might second guess the Head Start program’s discretion. The even bigger fear is that reviewers might misinterpret minor incidents to be deficiencies thus putting the program into the Designation Renewal System (DRS) requiring competition for the next five-year grant cycle.
The newly released IM provides OHS’s new interpretation of these terms and consequences for failure to follow the new requirements. It makes clear that failure to timely report certain incidents could result in a deficiency alone. OHS defines a “significant incident” as any incident that results in a serious injury or harm to a child, violates the Head Start Standards, or results in a child being left alone, unsupervised, or released to an unauthorized adult. The requirement to report applies to incidents involving Head Start staff, contractors, and volunteers in all settings, including blended classrooms.
Put simply, this is a big deal that will have a huge impact on Head Start programs nationwide. OHS has scheduled a webinar on October 13, 2022, to provide further explanation of the new requirements and details about what this means for Head Start programs.
Join us for our webinar on Wednesday, October 26, 2022, where we will provide our take on what the IM means for Head Start programs and break down how you should prepare to implement the new requirements.