You are here

MSU Extension Head Start Community Needs Assessment 2022-2023

Filed Under: MSU Extension Head Start

Introduction and Purpose

This Community Assessment is in fulfillment of the requirements of Head Start Performance Standards (45 CFR 1302.11) which requires an assessment of the needs of the communities served every five years. The objective is to provide a snapshot of our service area and to identify characteristics that may have a significant impact on agency planning and program development. The Head Start Program Performance Standards and Other Regulations (45 CFR 1302.11 (b)) specify the information that must be included in the Community Assessment and submitted with the grant application. To summarize, the grantee agency is required to collect  and analyze information in the Community Assessment about:

  1. The number of eligible children 0-5, and expectant mothers, including their geographic location, race, ethnicity, and languages spoken, including:
    1. Children experiencing homelessness;
    2. Children in foster care; and
    3. Children with disabilities, including types and relevant services/resources provided by community agencies;
  2. The education, health, nutrition, and social service needs of eligible children and their families, including prevalent social or economic factors that impact their well-being;
  3. Typical work, school, and training schedules of parents with eligible children;
  4. Other child development, childcare centers, and or family childcare programs that serve eligible children, including home visiting, publicly funded state and local preschools, and the approximate number of children served;
  5. Resources that are available in the community to address the needs of eligible children and their families; and
  6. Strengths of the community.

The community assessment provides the most recent data available regarding demographics, early learning programs, disabilities, health and nutrition, and social services for children and families in the region. The assessment provides a portrait of our programs and activities and identifies community resources available. This assessment also identifies where there are gaps between available services and needs.

The Head Start Program Performance Standards and Other Regulations (45 CFR 1302.102) state that the information gathered in the Community Assessment (CA) must guide decisions based on the status of eligible families and the community setting(s) within the service area. Specifically, they state that: The information in the Community Assessment will be used to:

  1. Help determine the grantee’s philosophy and its long-range and short-range program objectives.
  2. Determine the type of component services that are most needed and the program option or options that will be implemented.
  3. Determine the recruitment area that will be served by the grantee, if limitations in the amount of resources make it impossible to serve the entire service area.
  4. If there are delegate agencies, determine the recruitment area that will be served by the grantee and the recruitment area that will be served by each delegate agency.
  5. Determine appropriate locations for centers and the areas to be served by home-based programs; and set criteria that define the types of children and families who will be given priority for recruitment and selection.

Ultimately, the community assessment is used to make decisions for outreach, enrollment, selection, and the most appropriate delivery of Head Start services. It is a valuable resource for staff, parents, and community partners to collectively think about the impacts of population shifts and equitable distribution of services.


This assessment was developed from data and statistics collected from several national, state, and local resources including the most recent research from 2022 Kids Count, the 2019 US Census Bureau, and local program statistics. As we continue to recover from the pandemic as a nation, we are learning to adapt to the new reality of service provision including the difficulty in finding qualified staff. We are in the process of adapting our services to meet the needs of the area’s most in-need children and families while also considering programmatic changes to address staffing challenges.

Executive Summary

In overall child well-being, Mississippi ranks only behind New Mexico. The table below (taken from Mississippi Kids Count Factbook 2023) shows Mississippi is the last ranked state in both Health and Family and Community metrics, 49th in Economic Well-Being, and 39th in Education. However, for young children (ages 3 and 4) not in school, the state fared worse than the previous year with an estimated 36,000 children not in an educational setting. A child’s chances of thriving depend not only on individual, family, and community characteristics but also on the state in which she or he is born and raised. States vary in their wealth and other resources. Policy choices and investments also influence children’s chances for success.





Economic Well-Being Rank:


Children in Poverty




Children whose Parents Lack Secure Employment




Children Living in Households with a High Housing Cost Burden




Teens Not in School and Not Working




Education Rank:


Young Children (Ages 3 and 4) Not in School




Fourth-Graders Not Proficient in Reading




Eighth-Graders Not Proficient in Math




High School Students Not Graduating on Time




Health Rank:


Babies with low birth weight




Children without Health Insurance




Child and Teen Deaths per 100,000




Teens who are Overweight or Obese




Family and Community Rank:


Children in Single-Parent Families




Children in Families Where the Household Head Lacks a High School Diploma




Children Living in High-Poverty Areas




Teen Births per 1,000





This report includes demographic, economic, and health data for Harrison County, and in most cases, a comparison with statewide statistics. Mississippi State University-Extension Head Start became a grantee in 2019, after reports that more than 70% of children served by Head Start were in programs that were identified as low-performing and subsequently forced to compete for their grants via the Designation Renewal System. In addition, Head Start children in the area consistently scored the lowest among all childcare options in Kindergarten Entrance Assessments, with some Harrison County school districts reporting that Head Start children score lower than Head Start eligible children who had not been served. MSU-Extension is committed to providing opportunities for children and families to experience positive outcomes to ensure future school success.

From February 13-17, 2023, the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) conducted an intensive Focus Area Two (FA2) monitoring review consisting of interviews for content area and leadership staff, Board and Policy Council members as well as policy and procedure reviews, center and classroom monitoring and safety checks and file audits for both children and personnel. On March 27, 2023, we received a very positive report that included only one noted area of improvement regarding lack of documentation for lead-free paint for school-based partnerships. The review team identified several areas of strength, including our facilities and the learning taking place in each center, family engagement supports, our monitoring for health and safety, our wellness program, ERSEA, and the documentation provided to support our efforts across service areas, our HR and fiscal systems and our partnership programs. The lead reviewer commented that for a program only in business for four years, we have done an amazing job and have excellent systems for an excellent program. Through our efforts, and other committed early care and education professionals, we will change the narrative for our most vulnerable children and families in Mississippi.

About Our Geographic Area

Harrison County is the largest county in Mississippi’s coastal region, spanning more than 900 square miles, and is home to 209,396 residents (US Census Bureau), with 24% of this population including children under 18, according to Kid’s Count (2022). The county, which is centrally located on the Gulf of Mexico, encompasses five distinct cities, including Biloxi, D’Iberville, Gulfport, Long Beach, and Pass Christian. In a state where one in five residents lives below the poverty line, it is actually among the wealthiest areas in the state.

Mississippi map showing location of Harrison County.

Our organization has been a singular beacon for quality early childhood education in the state. Over the last decade, MSU-ES has been tasked with operating the Mississippi Child Care Resource and Referral Network, administering the state’s QRIS, and providing a network of quality improvement supports for early childhood providers, culminating in the $15M/year Early Years Network grant. There is no meaningful ECE initiative in the state in which MSU-ES has not played a leadership role. We expanded our capacity into the Head Start/Early Head Start world on August 1, 2019, for Harrison County, Mississippi.

Overall, more than one in four (28%) of Mississippi’s children live in households experiencing poverty, compared to 17% nationally.  This does not tell the full story, given the stark racial disparities in poverty (45% black compared to 13% white).  Overall, 25% of Mississippi’s children live in households with food insecurity.  Few counties have a higher median and per capita income, and with a poverty rate of 17.5%, only 20 other counties fare better. However, there is a stark contrast for the children of Harrison County – with 28.1% below five who live in poverty, ranking 36th out of 82 counties.  Bolstered by the tourism industry that creates opportunities for working families in casinos alongside the restaurants and retail environments that surround them, residents of this community benefit from a diversified economy, demonstrated by one of the lowest unemployment rates in the state. As with many southern states, this area saw a significant increase in population post-Hurricane Katrina, complicating the need to rebuild, and adding to the strain on resources.  Even though economic indicators are trending upward, the fact remains that 33% of children in Mississippi live in a household where parents lack secure employment.  Many parents who want full-time work are forced to piece together part-time or temporary jobs that do not provide sufficient or stable income.  In addition, some lack the education and skills needed to secure a good job.  

Population Statistics


Harrison County









7.0% 2,970,615



102,604 49.0% 1,446,690 48.7%


106,791 51.0% 1,523,925 51.3%

Children under 5

12,982 6.2% 178,237 6.0%

Harrison County Population by Race

Race Percent of Population





Two or more races




American Indian


3.5% of Harrison County’s population is Hispanic or Latino.

Primary Language in the Home

Language Percent





Asian and Pacific Languages




95% of Harrison County residents speak only English, while only 5% speak other languages.

Economic Indicators


Harrison County


Median Income



Unemployment Rates (February 2022)

3.4% 3.5%

Children with no Parent in the Workforce

8.7% 11.5%

People Living in Poverty

37,953 573,299

% in Poverty

18.3% 19.4%

Children in Poverty

10,695 175,995

% Child Poverty

22.2% 26.0%

Children in Single-parent families

35.0% 36.8%

Owner Occupied Housing

58.1% 68.8%

Renter Occupied Housing

41.9% 31.2%

Children in Care of Grandparents

3,606 56,642
  • Approximately 37% of all children in Mississippi live in single-parent households and low-income families are a disproportionate amount with nearly 75% of all prospective Head Start and Early Head Start parents being single mothers.
  • As recent as May 2022, estimates are that 22% of Mississippi households with families had little or no confidence in their ability to pay their next rent or mortgage payment in time. In addition, 52% of low-income households with children spend 30% or more of their monthly income on rent, mortgage payments, taxes, insurance, and/or related expenses.
  • Mississippi Kids Count estimates that over 95,000 (14%) children live in extreme poverty – up approximately 10,000 children from a year ago. Extreme poverty is defined as those who make less than 50% of the federal poverty level. For a family of 4, that would equate to $13,739 per year. The Children’s Defense Fund estimates that 71% of children in poverty are children of color.  
  • In Mississippi, 3,594 children were in the foster care system, and of that number 42% were under the age of 5. This number dropped by approximately 500 kids in the last year, but the number of children under 5 remains significantly higher than any other age range.  
  • Mississippi has one of the lowest average costs for child care in the nation, but on average, families can expect to spend $5,110 annually on care. Infant and toddler care are much more expensive with an average weekly full-time rate of $140. Families of children with special needs have limited options and are expected to pay a higher rate.
  • According to the Mississippi Department of Employment Security, the Consumer Price Index for the Southern Census Region continues to increase at an alarming level, with the most critical increases from January 2022 to the present in the areas that families need most:
    • Household Energy – 13.7%
    • Rent – 11.3%
    • Food and Beverages – 9.9%
    • Housing – 9.6%
  • Harrison County is one of eight counties in Mississippi with a higher rate than the United States average (61.7%) for labor force participation meaning that 62.6% of the workforce aged 16 or older is currently employed or actively looking for a job.  
  • The US Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that in 2022, Mississippi added 27,158 jobs, an increase of 2.4% over the previous year. The majority of those jobs were Health Care and Social Assistance with 5,600 additional jobs over the past 12 months. Educational Services added 1,400 jobs in the same timeframe, followed by Manufacturing with 1,300 jobs. The largest decrease in employment in all sectors was in Retail, where 400 jobs were lost. 

Child Health and Social Service Metrics


Harrison County


Child Health Indicators





Low Birthweight Babies



4,195 11.8%

Premature Births



5,896 17%

Teen Pregnancy (rate per 1,000)





Infant Mortality Rate (per 1,000)



Child Abuse and Neglect Reports

3,174 33,450

Child Abuse Substantiated

476 8,086

Children in Foster Care

426 3,594

Mothers without a High School Diploma





Food Insecurity

37,470 18.2% 483,700 16.2%

Food Insecurity (Children)



144,320 20.4%

Temporary Assistance for Needy Families



Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program



Other Health Factors

  • Mississippi leads the nation in substantiated cases of child abuse and neglect with 48.3 substantiations per 1,000 children.  
  • Harrison County leads the state in the number of foster children with 426 served from April 2021 to March 2022. The median length of stay was 16.1 months.  
  • Mississippi Department of Child Protective Services (MDCPS) reports that only 68% of investigations were initiated within a timely manner.  
  • Of the total number of victims on file with MDCPS, infants up to one year old are at the greatest risk, with 14% of the total cases. The next highest percentage for an age group is 6% (ages 1, 11, and 12). For children age-eligible for Head Start/Early Head Start, the total percentage of cases is 34%, making birth to 5 the most at risk of child abuse. In addition, of the children under the age of 5 who were confirmed by child protective services as victims of maltreatment, the following is the breakdown of abuse:
    • 17% emotional abuse
    • 5% medical neglect
    • 72% neglect
    • 16% physical abuse
    • 14% sexual abuse
  • In 2020, Mississippi ranked last in the percentage of households who at some point during the year experienced difficulty providing enough food due to lack of money or resources.
  • Mississippi’s teen birth rate was the highest in the United States. For every 1,000 Mississippi teenagers, 50 had a baby. The nation’s average was 31. Teen pregnancies are estimated to cost the state’s taxpayers $137 million. 
  • The state has the highest rate of premature death in the United States, many due to chronic conditions. In addition, Mississippi is also highest ranked in infant mortality with a large racial disparity – 6.8 deaths per 1,000 live births among white babies vs. 11.4 per 1,000 live births for black babies.
  • Harrison County had the third highest number of suspected overdose deaths in 2020 with 49 and was ranked number 4 in the state in reported number of drug-related arrests with 1,022. 
  • Seventy-three adults were reported hospitalized for substance use disorders.
  • Adults reporting depressive disorders – 22%.
  • Almost 27% of adults in Harrison County report being current smokers and 48% report alcohol use.
  • As of March 2023, Harrison County has had 703 deaths from COVID-19, with 63,903 total cases since its inception. 
  • Harrison County ranks above the state and national averages in self-harm and interpersonal violence mortality.

Disability Information

In Harrison County, there are 250 children, birth to three, receiving Early Intervention services. Early Head Start has one child who has an IFSP (Individual Family Service Plan). According to the Mississippi Department of Education, there are 1,001 (16.6% of enrollment) children statewide who are receiving special education services. About 3.8% of infants and toddlers (approximately 4,100 children) in Mississippi receive Part C Services (early intervention), compared to the national average of 6.8%. Although Part C enrollment is low, it is reasonable to expect the need in the state to be more significant than in other states due to persistent poverty and other social determinants of health. According to the Census, there are 13,546 children under five with a diagnosed disability.

Head Start Eligible Children and Families

According to Mississippi Kids Count, less than 50% of age-eligible children are enrolled in preschool or nursery school in Harrison County, below the state average of 53.2%. Of the number not in school, the estimate is that 49% of the children not in care fall below 200% of the poverty level. Using census data, we applied the child poverty rate in Harrison County to the age-eligible population of children to estimate there are 2,875 income-eligible EHS infants and toddlers and 1,812 income-eligible preschool-aged Head Start children in our service area. By applying the birth rate to the ratio of low-income women, we estimate that at least 320 income-eligible pregnant women live in Harrison County.

Eligibility by Zip Code/Age

Zip Code

< 1 yr

1 yr

2 yrs

3 yrs

4 yrs

39501 (Gulfport)






39503 (Gulfport)






39507 (Gulfport)






39530 (Biloxi)






39531 (Biloxi)






39532 (Biloxi)






39540 (D’Iberville)






39571 (Cuevas)






39574 (Airey)






Total (By Age)






Total (By Program)






Head Start/Early Head Start Services Snapshot 2021-2022

There are three Head Start centers that MSU-Extension has oversight of: East Biloxi Head Start, Gilbert Mason Head Start, and Gaston Point Head Start. In addition, we have a partnership with one of the local school districts, Gulfport School District where we have 4 pre-K classrooms; 1 classroom each that are housed at 4 different elementary schools. East Biloxi Head Start is currently housed at Nichols Elementary in Biloxi, MS with the region serving families in the Biloxi Public School District. Gilbert Mason is in D’Iberville within the Harrison County School District. Gaston Point Head Start is in Gulfport, and along with the partnership program, serves families in the Gulfport School District.

Over the 2021-2022 school year, our program served a total of 227 children in Head Start as well as 41 children in Early Head Start. We are seeing increasing numbers of Hispanic/Latinx families.

Of the total enrolled participants, 238 were non-Hispanic while 30 were Hispanic. Forty-seven of our children are Dual Language Learners, with the majority being proficient in Spanish. The language breakdown of participants is as follows:

  • 228 spoke English,
  • 35 were Spanish-speaking
  • 3 spoke East Asian Languages and
  • 2 spoke Middle Eastern Languages.

There were 170 children served by our program who were income-eligible. The number of families served by the program that are over income >130% is 21; and 21 children are over income of 101%-130%. Twenty-four children benefit from public assistance. There are 2 foster children and 30 homeless children (13 in Head Start and 17 in Early Head Start) that have been served by our program this past school year.

Thirty-two children had an active IEP:

  • 15 who are diagnosed with a speech or language disturbance,
  • 14 who have a non-categorical/developmental delay,
  • 3 who have autism.

Currently, all children with IEPs are serviced through our active partnership with our Local Education Agency (LEA). In Early Head Start, one child was determined eligible to receive early intervention services under IDEA which resulted in the creation of an Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP). 

The following chart shows the breakdown of how many children and families were served by the center, as well as the number and percentage of children who had physical and dental exams. 


Children Served

Families Served

Physical Exams


Dental Exams


East Biloxi Elementary


37 34 85% 38 95%

Gaston Point

36 33 28 78% 33 92%

Dr. Gilbert Mason

63 58 56 89% 56 89%

Gulfport Partnership

88 88 57 65% 74 84%

Total Head Start

227 216 175 77% 204 89%

Linda Lyons (EHS)

41 35 32 78% 40 98%

Access to Other Early Childhood Education Programs

Parents in Harrison County have limited access to affordable childcare and no simple system that organizes the accountability of caregivers. Between Head Start/Early Head Start, Child Care Payment Program (CCPP), and public pre-k, public assistance programs in the state meet some low-income parents’ needs. The CCPP, which is funded through the Child Care and Development Fund (CCDF), serves children in households earning up to 85% of the state median income and, of course, Head Start income eligibility relies on poverty status. In 2020, just over 48% of children were enrolled in preschool or nursery programs, which is under the state average of almost 52%. Of the 76 licensed childcare facilities in Harrison County, 38 have capabilities to care for infants, toddlers, and preschoolers, and 16 have provisions for toddlers and preschool only. Together with CCDF and public schools, only about 1,000 children under five are being served in Harrison County, a fraction of those eligible. Including Head Start, 35% of all three- and four-year-olds in Harrison County were enrolled in school in 2020. Unsurprisingly, some of the areas with the lowest enrollment overlap with areas of highest economic need.

Head Start Staff

Our program is facing the same challenges as other Head Start programs throughout the nation in finding and retaining qualified staff to work in classrooms. Early childhood, with traditionally low pay, is a field that is struggling to attract candidates to the field and even when we hire staff, the burnout rate is incredibly high. Our profession is seeing record numbers of staff across the nation voluntarily leaving their jobs, we are no different. In the past year, we were unable to open several classrooms due to the inability to recruit, hire, and retain staff to safely operate classrooms. As such, we were at approximately ½ of our funded enrollment. In addition to the difficulty in finding qualified staff, we saw challenges in keeping staff as well. In the past year, we had 10 Early Head Start staff leave, five of whom were teachers, and 24 Head Start staff out of 50 total staff (48%). Out of those 24 staff, 21 (87%) were education staff. Of the 34 staff who left, only 13 were replaced during the school year, leading to a negative impact on continuity of care for our children served in those classrooms. In exit surveys of staff leaving the organization, we are finding a myriad of reasons for the vacancies. The majority (53%) left for work in similar fields, such as local school systems at a higher rate of pay. Because this is a nationwide crisis, competitors have sprung up in unexpected places such as Target or Starbucks who are not only offering higher starting salaries but are also offering new employees signing and retention bonuses.

Out of 17 Head Start classroom teachers, a vast majority are highly educated with a bachelor’s degree or higher in their field or related area of Early Childhood Education (71%), with another 29% holding an associate degree in Early Childhood or related field. For Early Head Start, nearly half of the classroom teachers have an associate degree or higher, with six additional EHS staff holding a Child Development Associate in infant/toddler development. With the stringent staffing standards required by Head Start, entry-level staff are difficult to find and can be even harder to keep. Working in early care and education is difficult with notoriously low wages. During the pandemic, the Head Start Bureau gave special allocations to allow for staffing increases, but they were temporary measures that were set to expire during the 2023 school year. To compensate for the challenges in finding and retaining staff, many programs are “right-sizing” by decreasing numbers of classrooms/centers and staff and using the savings to make significant market adjustments to existing staff. As an organization, we will explore all possibilities to find new ways to recruit, train, and retain highly qualified staff.

Select Your County Office

Your Extension Experts

Portrait of Dr. Louise E. Davis
Extension Professor
Portrait of Ms. Jamila B. Taylor
Director, Head Start & EHS Prg