The American Indian and Alaska Native Head Start Research Center (AIANHSRC) was funded by the Administration for Children and Families (ACF), Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation (OPRE) in 2005, at a time when Region XI Head Start children, families, and programs were not represented in research on Head Start children’s experiences or development. Region XI programs are those funded by Head Start grants to federally-recognized American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) tribes or consortia of tribes. The number of Region XI Head Start grantees varies as grants are obtained or relinquished, but includes roughly 150 grants to programs that serve about half of all AI/AN children in Head Start nationwide at any given time.
Two reports completed prior to the funding of AIANHSRC summarized the available literature on AI/AN children’s early development, what the literature was missing, and priorities for meeting Region XI Head Start’s data needs. These two reports can be accessed on the ACF website: A Summary of Research and Publications on Early Childhood for American Indian and Alaska Native Children (2003) and Establishing a Research Agenda for American Indian and Alaska Native Head Start Programs (2004). As the 2003 report points out, Region XI programs operate in unique settings and, within those settings, children and families experience both challenges and opportunities. Understanding the unique settings, challenges, and opportunities within Region XI is critical for informing Head Start policy and practice. However, in order to gather meaningful data, research must be conducted in ways that are informed by an understanding of the mixed history of research with AI/AN communities, follow protocols for research involving sovereign tribal nations, and employ methodologies consonant with local ways of knowing and being. Central to this work is close partnership between researchers and Native communities in the co-creation of knowledge that reflects tribal ways of knowing, experiences, and perspectives.
AIANHSRC was funded to begin paving the way for meaningful research to be conducted in partnership with Region XI Head Start programs and the AI/AN communities in which they operate. With guidance from a Steering Committee comprised of Region XI Head Start leaders, child development researchers, and federal partners, AIANHSRC sought to build research capacity and knowledge that would help create the conditions under which such meaningful research could occur. To that end, AIANHSRC undertook three major sets of activities:
AIANHSRC was established to increase research capacity among researchers and tribal community partners as a step toward addressing the Region XI Head Start research and data gaps that existed prior to the Center’s funding. The AIANHSRC Steering Committee included Region XI Head Start leaders, researchers, and federal staff who provided guidance to ensure that the Center’s activities aligned with Region XI Head Start priorities and with best practices for research with AI/AN communities. Capacity was grown by supporting senior researchers and junior scholars who partnered with Region XI Head Start programs on site-specific projects that employed culturally consonant methodologies to gather data that meaningfully captured the experiences of Region XI Head Start children, families, programs, and communities and that were promising for informing local and national Head Start policy and practice. Many of the research and program partners involved in this early work have continued their research partnerships with one another or with the Center and its work as it has evolved over the years with subsequent funding through the Tribal Early Childhood Research Center. In addition to these individual research-program partnerships, the Center partnered directly with diverse Region XI Head Start programs across the country to pilot methods and measures from the Family and Child Experiences Survey. This pilot work laid the foundation for the first national study of Region XI Head Start that has since been carried out with cohorts of over 20 Region XI programs in 2015 and 2019.
Following are examples of publications and presentations related to projects supported by AIANHSRC:
Bezdek, M., Bergan, A., & Spicer, P. (2007). The American Indian and Alaska Native Head Start Research Center. Poster and presentation at the Society for Research in Child Development Biennial Meeting, Boston, MA.
Poster symposium at the Society for Research on Child Development Biennial Conference, Denver, CO. (2009).