Early Childhood Education: Is Head Start a non-essential entitlement?

Me: Are you ready to do your homework and work on your letters?

My 4 year old daughter: YES!

I’ve spent the past 30 years of my life responsible for contributing to the care, nurture, education, growth, and development of children in my life. Starting with helping out with my baby cousin when I was 14 years old. During this time, I’ve made a lot of choices and have taken a lot of actions which did not serve to create and establish economic stability or provide emotional and mentally stable and healthy living environments for my oldest children, who are now 26 and 20.

I tried, I really did. I sought out and accessed mental health services and parenting support programs. I enrolled them in after school enrichment programs, Boys and Girls Clubs, and Big Brother/Big Sister programs, attempted to support them in extracurriculars like school athletics and the like. I knew I needed the support of a social safety net to help them survive having me as a mom and the things I have struggled with for a lifetime: depression, dysfunctional relationship attachments, and gaps in my life-skills education and abilities. Yet, despite all the trying, I watched both of their lives go down dark and painful paths, more treacherous and devastating (for a time; thank Gd they are both doing much better now) than any I had taken.

When, at 37 years old, I found out I was expecting another child, I was scared and determined that this child would have the benefit from me having learned the hard way what not to do and that he or she would experience a different future from the kind of life her siblings or I grew up with.

I don’t have a personal social safety network of family and friends. My mother died when I was 12 and I didn’t meet my father until 2010. He lives in another state and has done his best since we found each other to connect with me, but he can only do what he can do. The few family members of mine who are “local” are dealing with living life on survival’s edge themselves and we aren’t that close; never have been really. I know I share the fault in that, but supportive, encouraging, and engaged family attachment isn’t something I grew up knowing and experiencing. Sadly, life lived in crisis and survival mode is less than conducive to establishing, maintaining, and sustaining mutually supportive friendships in the long run.

This means I have been seeking out and accessing as many community based supports as I can. Programs like Healthy Start, the Family Relief Nursery of the Volunteers of America, and Head Start.

Healthy Start is a program directed at providing in-home early childhood education and parenting supports as well as regular developmental screenings in order to identify at the earliest possible stages any social, emotional, cognitive, or physical affects which could inhibit or impair the child’s ability to develop and grow to their fullest potential. This is a program designed and geared toward first-time parents. We qualified because she was her father’s first child. We had weekly home visits where the educator brought developmental toys, games, books, and curriculum and interacted with us and our daughter. The curriculum provided information about our child’s developmental stages and taught us the kinds of activities and supports we could be doing on our own to support our daughter’s growth. In addition to the eary childhood education and parenting supports she provided, the educator would regularly work with us to identify and assess goals that we wanted to work on and achieve for ourselves and our daughter. She also provided resource and referral information for additional needs we had.

The Volunteers of America Family Relief Nursery Program, is a child abuse prevention service. Frequently, families which have become involved with Child Protective Services and/or where the parents have substance abuse, criminal history, and/or domestic violence issues may be court mandated to participate in such a program. However, services are available to any who meet the program criteria – which are NOT based on financial need. The program provides two, three hour blocks of respite care for children ages from six weeks to five years old. A third day of respite care is available, to families not currently enrolled in the respite program first and then to currently enrolled families if there is space. Parent education classes, which help parents understand, learn about, and plan for dealing with the behavioral and emotional challenges which can trigger abuse and neglect. The focus on teaching the development and progression of the social and emotional aspects of children, helps parents to understand what drives challenging behavior and to develop proactive solutions and plan for how to help their children deal with their emotions. This education also helps parents who did not receive supportive care and nurture for their own emotional and psychological development as children to better understand themselves and to identify the areas of growth in themselves in order to better parent and navigate life.

My daughter's Head Start  classroom and playground

My daughter’s Head Start classroom and playground

Head Start used to only provide early childhood education for pre-school children 3 – 5 years old. It has grown to include an Early Head Start component which provides home-based parent education and early childhood development supports as early as pregnancy. Center based programs can begin as early as six weeks. According to the Office of Head Start:

Head Start is a federal program that promotes the school readiness of children ages birth to 5 from low-income families by enhancing their cognitive, social and emotional development.

Due to services available through our involvement with the Early Head Start and Head Start programs over the previous three years, I have been able to access additional supports to help me deal and cope with parenting my youngest daughter while dealing with untreated chronic physical and mental health conditions; relational disruptions and difficulties between myself, her father, and her older sister; and identify developmental concerns for her which make her eligible to receive Early Intervention educational supports.

The sequester which created an across the board 5% cut in federal spending back in March of this year, meant that the federally funded Head Start program my daughter is enrolled in had to end services in mid-May and not start up classes again this Fall until mid-September. The end of this program’s fiscal year is October 31st. If the government shut down continues, no services will be available, starting on November 1st.

Parents who rely on center based care for their children while they work or attend school will be left scrambling to locate qualified care-givers they can afford. Since the Head Start program is not a service that charges or accepts money from the families it serves, families at or near the federal poverty level, these families do not have money in their budgets to pay the equivalent cost of enrolling their children in full-time pre-school programs which can cost over $2,000 a month.

Federal Poverty Guidelines, show the annual income for a family of three to qualify for the program to is $19,350. There is a possibility that families can fall between 100 – 130# to a maximum of 130% of that and have an annual income up to $25,389. At the 130% level, the monthly pre-tax income for that family is $2,115.75. Meaning there is zero chance that a family earning that little money with one or more children in the Head Start program would be able to afford to pay to have their child/ren cared for and educated with the quality and caring equitable to what they receive attending Head Start.

In order to continue to make ends meet parents may be forced to leave their children with less qualified, caring, or safe individuals. Some parents without even those resources may have to leave school or have difficulty keeping their jobs. The safety nets of programs which are partially or fully funded by federal monies such as unemployment and Temporary Assistance to Needy Families will become even more burdened than they already are even as their ability to serve families in need is drastically diminished.

For those who complain about the size of our government and the cost to their bottom line, please realize that the government now provides the social safety nets which once were provided by family, friends, neighbors, and businesses in local communities, for those who were fortunate enough to be connected to these things. As time has gone and our society industrialized, commercialized, and digitized, the social supports and connections to community have continued to erode for more and more people. Government has both played a role in the erosion and stepped in to fill the many holes.

One thing I think we can all agree on is that it isn’t working well and it isn’t working right. Instead of pointing fingers, playing the blame game, and holding ideals, beliefs, and agendas as of higher importance than people, we need to come together to create solutions based on the way things are now, instead of how they used to be or how we wish they would have stayed. It is clear that we can’t trust or rely on people in governmental or corporate positions of influence and power to maintain the social safety nets our society needs in order to continue to work to improve opportunities and develop the human potential of its citizens. The safety nets are still needed and necessary, but we need to take ownership and figure out how we can become each others’ safety net.

About Lillian

Figuring life out one day at a time. Concurrently writing on Human In Recovery on Wordpress as Kina Diaz DeLeon, as my psuedonym to protect the guilty and innocent alike. I'm finally integrating and accepting the different aspects of myself and my life into one mosaic instead of keeping the parts segregated.

10 thoughts on “Early Childhood Education: Is Head Start a non-essential entitlement?

  1. As I was reading your posting, what came up in my mind was that you are very strong. You tried hard to get out of those problem. Thinking about your children should have made you stronger.

    • Adelien,
      Thank you. I am stronger now than I used to be. I’m strong enough now to know how much I need the support of others in my community to support and help provide the things my child needs in order to grow into her fullest potential. Parenting has broken me and rebuilt me, strengthening me in the broken places.

      Be well,

  2. Lillian, thank you for this post! It is very well written and has some very useful information and links. I had never heard of Healthy Start or the Relief Nursery programs, but I am familiar with what Head Start use to be. I say “use to be” because my own children were enrolled in head start over 25 years ago. I know the program was excellent then and helped me through some dark times of my own. It’s a shame that the insanity that is running rampant in our government is negatively affecting some of these very necessary programs. I have said for years that if we spent near as much money educating and providing safe environments for our children as we do attempting to rehabilitate them as adults, we would be ahead in many arenas!

    Thanks for sharing your insights and providing some much needed information.

    Have a blessed day!

    • Brenda,
      Thanks for taking the time to read and comment on this very long post! I truly appreciate it. It is amazing what the local Head Start program my daughter is enrolled in has continued to be able to achieve and the quality they continue to provide. I suspect if I had detailed just what this program has contributed to my family’s lives in the last three years, I could have doubled the length of the post.


  3. Lillian, I love your writing and communication style. I do hope the right people hear this message & are able effect change. Clearly programs like this are needed. For people who know they need help, and for those who don’t yet know what they need. Support is so important, in all aspects of life. Keep up the great work.

    • Loralee,

      Thank you. I heard something on a television show today: “Usually, one person doesn’t have the solution. But 100 people with 1% of the solution? That’ll get it done. I think that’s beautiful, pieces solving a puzzle.” ~ Skye, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

      Hopefully enough people with pieces to solve this puzzle will join together to form a better picture.

      Be well,

  4. Lillian, this is wonderful! I wrote a longwinded reply, then had a terrible time trying to get it posted so I’ll just say I’m so glad you shared this timely story. When the story/information is good, it’s okay to go long! Bravo.

    • Debbie,
      I really hate it and get extremely frustrated when my long winded replies get lost in the data streams. Thanks for pushing through and commenting anyway.

      Thank you for your kind words of encouragement and support.

      Be well,

  5. Pingback: Depression: Finding more threads to hang on by | PDX Social Safety Net

  6. Pingback: Emergency Funding for Head Start: Angel Donors Invest in Children | PDX Social Safety Net

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