Head Start: 30M children given help

MARIETTA – On a recent day that saw below zero temperatures, the Jane Edwards Head Start Center in Marietta still had a classroom full of children eager to start a morning of singing, painting and building.

After federal funding cuts from a 2013 sequestration, Head Start continues to receive both praise and scrutiny for its effectiveness at giving children a chance at a better beginning before starting school.

Nearly one million children, infants and pregnant mothers were federally funded for enrollment in Head Start programs across the country during fiscal year 2012, a number that has since changed national, state and local enrollment after sequestration cuts in 2013, cutting off some 57,000 mothers and children.

Locally, Head Start programs out of Washington-Morgan Community Action cut 17 slots out of its enrollment and made some changes to adjust to the 5.27 percent reduction in funding. What remains is still a highly-used system, one that has many declaring it a big need and others saying it isn’t doing its job.

Rachel Shipley, director of Head Start and Early Head Start for Washington-Morgan Community Action, said despite cuts, the access to these programs is absolutely necessary.

Washington-Morgan Community Action’s Head Start was funded during fiscal year 2012-2013 with $2,244,264 plus an additional $327,168 in non-cash resources.

“There’s been a lot of research done about the disparity gap between children in poverty and middle class families,” Shipley said. “Every child we reach we make a lasting impact on their lives, from higher graduation rates to better paying jobs.”

Washington and Morgan counties’ Head Start now has funding for 250 preschool aged children 3-5 and 40 spots for pregnant women and infants under the Early Head Start program.

To qualify for Head Start programs in Ohio, household income must fall below a set poverty level. For a household of two people, yearly income must be below $19,669. For each additional person, the maximum income increases by $5,148 per year.

During the recent bouts of extremely cold weather and snow, attendance dropped at local Head Start locations. On Friday morning, students from the multiple classes at Jane Edwards fit into one because of the low numbers.

Marietta Councilman Roger Kalter, D-1st Ward, said with 18 percent of Marietta without motor vehicles, it is up to the community and leaders like him to assure that people can get to places like these.

“There are people who are incapable who we need to find solutions for,” Kalter said, noting that many low-income residents in need of such programs walk instead of ride.

A 2010 study by the U.S. Department of Health and and Human Services tried to determine if Head Start was improving the cognitive, social-emotional and health needs of the child as well as having a positive influence on parenting practices.

Results showed that access to Head Start did help improve these areas in 3- and 4-year-olds.

“However, the benefits of access to Head Start at age 4 are largely absent by first grade for the program population as a whole,” the study said, suggesting that the long-term benefit that Head Start aims to have is largely lost by around age 6 or 7.

Shipley explained that the main and first focus is to get children ready for kindergarten, a time that can be tough for any child from any background.

“We really work on the parents’ role in school readiness too, to be advocates when going into the public school system, so they know what their rights are and what they should expect,” she said.

The same study did find that the program “may lead to improved parent-child relationships through first grade.”

Shipley said no matter what, their goal is to help families be self-sufficient and to help children get ready for school.

“Anytime we have a cut that reduces our ability to do that, because we’re in this to help families and to provide a quality service, we have to deal with that and it’s hard for us,” she said.

Since it was established in 1965, Head Start aims to impact at-risk children and their low-income families by better preparing them to begin school, through social and cognitive improvements. Head Start also runs assessment programs with families to help strengthen relationships between parents and children and improve parenting practices.