By: Joel Ryan, Executive Director. 04/10/2020.
Recently I have been asked whether Head Start programs are open or closed during the coronavirus outbreak. The answer is that they are open and have been on the front lines throughout this public health crisis. Head Start programs in Washington State are providing child care to essential workers, homeless children, children at risk of abuse or neglect, and other priority populations as needed.
Puget Sound ESD’s Head Start and Early Head Start program which operates from Tacoma to Seattle has kept open many of their full and extended day sites open. They are serving high risk families and children of essential workers that have been already enrolled in the program and needing child care. Several programs in the Seattle area are re-opening child care options for essential workers and for the large number homeless children Head Start supports.
Head Start Providing Modified Services
While most Head Start programs are no longer offering on-site care, staff are continuing to support at risk children and families with modified services. Head Start staff are in constant contact with families to help them navigate resources in their community, and providing a set of curated educational activities and supports for their children to do at home. They are going ‘high tech’ with interactive online events and educational apps that teachers can individualize for families, ‘medium tech’ with emailed activities, resources, newsletters, and fun challenges for kids, and ‘low tech’ with food, packets, and art supplies dropped right at kids’ doors. I talked to a teacher yesterday who delivered packets and stood on the sidewalk to wave and talk to each of her students while they stayed on their stoop or window.
Here are just a few examples:
· Kitsap Community Resources Head Start in Bremerton is checking in twice a week with families and are working to support child development, family services, and their health care needs. They established a YouTube channel where parents and children can participate in virtual circle times and they are dropping off weekly packets, play dough, and paints.
· Lewis Clark Early Childhood Program in Eastern Washington is delivering food boxes and teachers have created Facebook pages to support learning activities and to provide tips to parents to help them prepare healthy meals.
· Children’s Home Society which serves parts of King County and Walla Walla continues to deliver food and education bags and are conducting virtual home visits via Skype and WhatsApp. Parents are also able to access mental health supports during this crisis while they are home with their children. They have started collecting donations and using those funds to provide gift cards to families that are desperate for help.
· Snohomish County Early Head Start is conducting zoom meetings with families to check in, working with food banks to conduct delivery, and partnering with county agencies to support housing needs such as rent assistance, connection to employment, and helping student parents enroll and stay in college.
· Skagit/Islands Head Start is using Facebook and Call Em All to stay connected with families. Mental Health consultants are using FaceTime and Zoom to meet with parents to try to lower the stress levels families are experiencing in their home to keep children safe. Teachers and family service coordinators are checking in with families regularly and are delivering grocery and fuel cards to their most vulnerable families. They have also partnered with Catholic Community Services to deliver culturally appropriate food boxes to farm worker families.
I am so encouraged by the commitment and work of the dedicated Head Start staff who are continuing to find ways to support families during this worldwide emergency. Head Start programs are not only “open” but they are truly on the front lines of supporting our most at risk children and families – just as they are needed the most.
Want to help? We Would Be Happy to Connect You to A Local Provider
You might be wondering what more is needed? Well, Head Start programs are seeking donations for cleaning supplies to keep kids safe and healthy. More help is also needed for direct assistance to families such food and rental support. If you are looking at making an individual contribution, we are also hearing from a number of programs that families are struggling to get back and forth places as they are running low on gas money, and that supplies of things like diapers and formula are either out of stock or disappearing quickly. Toilet paper and home cleaning supplies, which are not covered by SNAP benefits, are also a real struggle for low income families, and many are worried about basic bills like rent and utilities as jobs disappear. You can donate to support these families through our donation portal. 100% of your donation will be passed along to local programs for this purpose.
We have been delighted by the number of people who have made gifts to help support Head Start families. Thank you to everyone who has contributed! We have also been very fortunate to have a number of great local, county, state, and national partners in this work.
Head Start Seeks Additional Funding for Mental Health and Technology
Recently, Head Start programs were fortunate enough to obtain funds through the CARES Act to support programs during the COVID-19 crisis and to offer summer programming to children that will enroll in kindergarten next year. But we are finding that more funding is badly needed. Based on national survey of Head Start providers the National Head Start Association (NHSA) is recommending to Congress and the White House that they consider making some additional modest investments in two targeted areas in the next relief package:
1) Support for Mental Health: In addition to the stress of COVID and the economic instability for families, alongside the increase in domestic violence we’re seeing, many caregivers have lost or decreased access to substance abuse and mental health services. Many children are spending more time in increasingly harmful home settings. A huge number of child abuse and neglect reports come from schools and interacting with other caring adults outside of the home, and those opportunities for intervention have been lost due to isolation/stay-at-home measures at the very same time that risk for abuse and neglect has increased. Our Secretary of the Department of Children, Youth, and Families Ross Hunter has been speaking about his concerns in this area in a number of recent interviews and how their agency is trying to address this. In effect, based on the National Head Start Association’s survey results the field has identified an acute, increased need to address children’s mental health and see this as an area where Head Start programs could use additional resources.
2) Technology to Enable Remote Service Provided by Head Start Staff: Staff are working to stay in touch with families but don’t have the resources necessary to support their efforts. Many are working on phones or iPads, but they need additional technology to maximize their remote services to families. We need to be able to make sure programs have the technological infrastructure they need to support families.
We are still at the very beginning of a long recovery from this COVID-19 crisis, but Head Start and Early Head Start programs are working hard to meet the challenge, and we will all be advocating to Congress to address some of the critical issues we’re seeing faced by our programs and families.
If you would like to connect with a local Head Start program or for a media inquiry please email me at Joel@wsaheadstarteceap.com.
If you are interested in learning more specifics about the needs of Head Start programs and what’s happening in Congress please contact Cody Kornack at the National Head Start Association at firstname.lastname@example.org