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.

Homeless in Portland

Portland is a wonderfully eclectic place to live in. There is something for everyone, regardless of lifestyle, religious affiliation (or lack thereof), race, ethnicity, or country of origin. It’s the home of tree huggers and digital industrialists alike. It’s also Hollywood’s newest, Hipster cousin: home of television series like Portlandia and Grimm, as well as a key location for filming movies such as The Hunted, Untraceable, and Extraordinary Measures. Portland is an amazing place to live.

That being said, Portland also has it’s darker aspects. On April 23, 2013, Dana Tims of The Oregonian reported:

Homelessness in Multnomah County, particularly among veterans, families, women, and adults with disabilities, is dire and likely getting worse. . .

In terms of comparisons, Multnomah County appears to have higher numbers of homeless families than similar areas elsewhere, . . . The percentage of homelessness here is higher than King County, Wash., San Francisco and Hennepin County, Minn. — an area often held up as a model for combating homelessness. . .

The 2,666 homeless families counted in Multnomah County in 2011, she said, dwarfed the 635 homeless families counted in San Francisco that same year. ~ Multnomah County homelessness problem dire and likely to get worse, experts say


A local homeless man gathering up his sleeping gear after spending the night under shelter in front of a store. (c) 10/02/2013, lem

People huddle in blankets and sleeping bags under the covered areas of storefronts, churches, and public parks after businesses close and passersby, who are likely to shun, complain, or harass the homeless retire to their homes. The covered areas beneath Portland’s numerous bridges and overpasses, along with the biking and hiking areas containing trees and foliage have makeshift communities of all ages, from all backgrounds which have continued to grow in number.

Private non-profit community service agencies such as Human Solutions have started operating Warming Centers during the worst of the winter weather. According to their website:

Family homelessness is a genuine concern in our community. The January 26, 2011 One Night Shelter Count identified 5,220 homeless people in Multnomah County. Of those 5,220 homeless people, 2,784 were people in families, including 1,602 children under the age of 18. People in homeless families, including infants and children, made up over half (53%) of all the homeless people in the count.

Some shelter programs do not have the capacity to keep families together, separating genders above certain ages, meaning husbands and fathers are not able to share the same quarters as their families and adolescent sons have to fend for themselves in overwhelming and frightening circumstances. Warming Centers for families open during the winter months, usually during the worst weather months, November through March or April. Several shelter programs are only available to women and their children who are fleeing domestic violence, which is needed, but may cause desperate mothers and fathers to misrepresent their situations in order to provide safe shelter for their children, because there aren’t enough resources to serve the increasing number of homeless families.

One family shelter that I am aware of, which keeps families together while providing structured services, like life-skills training, to help families transition from homelessness and instability into obtaining their own housing and sustainable self-sufficiency, is My Father’s House, located in Gresham, OR.

My oldest two children and I were residents in an earlier incarnation of the program, ten years ago, during the Summer of 2003. Since then, the program has grown from housing five families at a time in five bedrooms of a conjoined duplex, which also housed the administrative office and class/meeting room, to owning a 20,000 square foot facility that can house up to 30 families. They are currently in the process of building transitional apartment housing for 12 single-mother families who have graduated their main shelter program.

My Father’s House is not an immediate entry emergency shelter; meaning, a homeless family cannot simply show up on the doorstep on a first come, first serve basis and have a place to sleep that night. There is an intake process which starts with a phone call to, (503) 492-3046.

Homelessness and poverty in Portland, in America, is, in my personal opinion, reaching epidemic proportions. The causes, effects, and co-related factors are complex, multi-layered, and require that every individual within the community set aside assumptions, prejudices, and judgment. It also requires that every one of us take personal ownership of creating solutions and creating change where we live and not relying on elected officials, community service organizations, and churches to help “those” people. You would be surprised that many of “those” people are co-workers, classmates of your children, and the fast food worker who is cleaning up the debris left on the tables and floors because “that’s their job.”

The stigma of being poor and homeless and the criticism of people needing to access government funded services pushes people into hiding their need from others. Perhaps, if we all figured out what we could do, where we are at with the resources we do have, there would be less reliance on government. Even those of us who may be on the verge of homelessness ourselves, still have something to offer or share, whether it’s time, or just reaching out to offer a hug, a smile, or a listening ear.

When everyone is sinking in quicksand and it’s every man for himself – no one gets out. Let’s reach out to our fellow human beings and citizens and help each other to get up and get out of poverty and homelessness.

What is PDX Social Safety Net?

Welcome to PDX Social Safety Net.

This blog provides information and insight regarding the things affecting residents in the diverse microcosm of Portland, OR (PDX). Social refers to what is commonly called or considered social services – the organizations and agencies which have been established to help provide a safety net for families who are experiencing difficult times and need assistance, for whatever reason.

Different agencies and organizations will be written about from my personal perspective as someone who has either worked with or for them or who has personally accessed their services. I am also inviting others who have direct experience with agencies to write about them. It is my hope that articles featuring specific agencies or their services will do more than just provide an overview, but will offer insight and perspective which will provide supportive information for those needing to access the services.

Since I am writing from my personal experience, I will be offering what I have found that works or does not work for me. I will share my personal experiences from interacting with different organizations and navigating different systems. Hopefully, my experiences will be relevant and helpful to others. Additional information about me and my background can be found on the About page.

A few of the topics which will be included are:

  • Identifying, applying for, and accessing services
  • Mental Health
  • Education
  • Housing
  • Transportation
  • Health
  • Employment

This is a work in progress and I welcome questions and feedback. If there is an agency or topic that is of interest and you would like more information on, please leave a comment and I will respond as soon as I am able to gather the relevant information. I will add information onto the Resource Links page as I go along. Agency and resource information which is not yet available here, may be located on the 211info.org website or by dialing 2-1-1 from any phone.


Social Media and job search: Who you know still matters, connecting with them is what’s different

I attended a free workshop on using social media as a job search tool yesterday.

There were only two of us who attended the class, and one of us was extremely late – yeah, that would have been *ahem* ~ me! Although I’d gotten to the office early, I got too focused on a different work search related task and completely forgot why I was in the building in the first place. I was 50 minutes late, despite the fact I’d arrived an hour ahead of class time.

Pro-tip: Use the timer/reminder/calendar alert functions on your phone to give yourself transition time and to stay on schedule.

Since it was a workshop I had registered for and committed myself to, instead of just writing it off, I spoke to a staff person and explained what had happened. A supervisor was consulted and they got the instructor’s permission to let me come in late. Typically, a latecomer is marked as a “no-show” and has to register for a repeat workshop, two weeks to a month later. I got lucky!

Insight ~ When you mess up and think you’ve lost your chance, don’t just give up and jump on the internal self-abuse train. Accept that it happened and take a post-active step to own the problem, alert those who were affected, and ask for a second chance. Even if you get denied the chance in that moment, you’ve given yourself a learning opportunity and shown positive, constructive character traits to potential members of your network.

The youngest person in the room was the instructor. I was in the middle. The other gal in the room had a few additional years of experience, than I have. However, I felt much more personal affinity and cohort connection with her, than with our youthful instructor. I don’t mean to be ageist, but it can be difficult (on many levels and for many reasons) to take instruction from someone young enough to be your child or grandchild. On the other hand, who better to learn from about effectively utilizing the newest technology and tools for connecting with potential employers in today’s job market?

I could tell my cohort was having some difficulties connecting with what the instructor was presenting.

When it comes to new tools and technology, those of us who learned to find employment by walking in the door, filling out a paper application, providing a paper resume, and making a face to face connection can find the concept of finding jobs online very bewildering and impersonal. We came up in the age before computers and the internet. For us, socializing online can be a foreign and profoundly disturbing concept. It’s often difficult to see how useful and powerful these tools are for creating and building meaningful relationships with anyone “real.”

We were taught about things like the hidden job market and learned that finding jobs is about who you know more than it is what you know and what you can do. As far as many of us are concerned, we have a hard time understanding how to leverage our experience and knowledge by creating and building online relationships to identify and connect to the hidden job market.

The reality is that the same principles we learned to use in face to face job search still apply. Our former methods are not as effective as they once were. So, we have to learn new ways of doing the same things. In order for us to learn to do that, we need the people who are trying to teach us new ways, to understand where and how to make these new methods connect and relate to the previous ones.

If you are an older person trying to navigate the new world of technology and social media based job search, you can help yourself by asking how what you learned before is similar and different than what you’re learning now. If you are a younger, social media and technology savvy person trying to help us older folks learn new ways, slow down and help us understand how what you’re teaching really is just a new method of doing what we already know.