A Look Back at Head Start

Well into its fifth decade of operation, Head Start provides early childhood education opportunities for preschool age children from low-income families as well as early intervention for infants, toddlers and expectant mothers in communities across the nation.  A recent policy brief from CLASPPutting Children and Families First – Head Start Programs in 2010,  examines program data to ascertain the impact of American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) fund on the program as well as discuss program trends from the late 1990’s through 2010.

Report  highlights include:

  •  In 2010, of the more than 1.1 million children served by Head Start, 86 percent were between the ages of 3-5; and 14 percent  birth through age 2 were served through the Early Head start program.
  •  In 2010, 40 percent of Head Starts participants were white, 29 percent African American, 8 percent reported themselves biracial or multiracial, 4 percent were American Indian or Alaska Native, 2 percent Asian and 1 percent Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander.  Eleven percent reported their race as “other. ”  Thirty-six percent of all participants reported being of Hispanic or Latino ethnicity.
  •  In 2010, over half of the families involved in Head Start (57 percent) were headed by a single parent.  In nearly ¾ of Head Start families (72 percent), neither parent had achieved an education level above a high school degree or general equivalency degree (GED).
  •  In 2010, 12 percent of Head Start children were diagnosed as having a disability.
  •  In 2010, 76 percent of Head Start teachers had an associate degree or higher, an increase from the 51 percent in 2002.

The brief contains additional data on program services and families, as well as comparisons of data points over the past decade.  CLASP also has a new data tool to assist decision makers and policy wonks with assessing their state’s needs around early childhood education. The tool is accessible through the CLASP website resource center.

Will the Economy Kill Early Childhood Education?

The 2005 report Losing Ground in Early Childhood Education by Stephen Herzenberg, Mark Price and David Bradley, from the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) and the Keystone Research Center (KRC) concluded that early child education (ECE) in America had reached a point of reckoning, as it was no longer able to successfully recruit and retain the most educated childhood development professionals.

Using data from the Community Population Survey between the years of 1983 and 2004, the researchers identified a decline in the education level of ECE educators, noting that in 1983-84, 43 percent held a 4-year college degree as opposed to 30 percent in 2002-04. Home-based ECE programs especially suffered a decline in staff qualifications with less than 50 percent of the workers having any post-secondary education. Possible reasons for the change in workforce education attainment included low wages, poor or no benefits offered to staff and expanded career opportunities (that paid better) for female college graduates.

Six years after this publication, it appears that little has changed to improve the state of ECE, in fact, due to the recession’s impact on state and federal budgets, much of education funding is in jeopardy. Austerity measures have lead to the removal of full-day kindergarten from some Pennsylvania school districts. At least one district recently cut kindergarten from their education budget completely. These cuts have been made despite numerous research studies that provide evidence of the positive behavioral and academic impacts of ECE on children and a cost-benefit analysis that finds ending ECE may cost more than maintaining it.

Reading the KRC’s report in this time of budget battles and beleaguered taxpayers has me wondering what the future holds for early childhood care, education and intervention. Is ECE now considered a luxury? Is child development a field not worthy of a competitive wage? With older, college-educated teachers reaching retirement age, budget cuts, closing programs and frozen wages, the availability and quality of future ECE programs remains uncertain at best.

This report, and many other excellent policy resources are available at the Keystone Research Center’s website.

Early Childhood Collaborative Resource List

Research indicates that the youngest members of society are the most at risk of experiencing trauma, abuse and neglect, therefore having a high likelihood of contact with the child welfare system. The vulnerability of young children makes their safety and well-being a high priority, a point recognized by policy-makers and professionals as evidenced by the growing collaborative efforts between the child welfare system and early childhood experts.

A brief from the Administration for Children and Families, US Department of Health and Human Services entitled TIP SHEET FOR EARLY CHILDHOOD-CHILD WELFARE PARTNERSHIPS: Policies and programs that promote educational access, stability, and success for vulnerable children and families, provides a concise review of the many federal policies and programs in place to improve access to child care, early intervention and early education for youth in the child welfare system. Programs highlighted include:

  • The Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA):  The reauthorization of this Act last year provided incentive and support for linking physical and mental health and developmental services to the child welfare system to target at-risk children, especially those under the age of three.
  • Head Start: A free program to eligible children regardless if they live with their parents, kin, or have been placed in a foster home.
  • Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act: This bill requires that youth in foster care, even very young children, experience a stable placement with as few disruptions to their education and residential setting as possible.

More programs and initiatives are summarized on the brief that also includes a list of web-based resources, making this a handy resource for families, advocates, child care workers, educators and social service staff.

The Role of the Child Welfare System in Identifying Children’s Mental Health Needs

There is growing body of research that supports developmental screening and intervention for very young children in the child welfare system. According to a report from the National Center for Children in Poverty, Addressing the Mental Health Needs of Young Children in the Child Welfare System – What Every Policymaker Should Know, the younger the child (birth through age 5, specifically), the higher the likelihood they will come into contact with a component of the child welfare system. Further, many of those children have experienced neglect, abuse or other maltreatment  – all of which may result in increased mental health needs.

In the report, authors Janice Cooper, Patti Banghart and Yumiko Aratani discuss the links between mental health and early childhood trauma. They also examine the role of early intervention in addressing the developmental needs of at-risk children since the inception of the 2003 Child Abuse and Prevention Act, which made mandatory the identification and referral of children to such services by child welfare agencies. Some of their recommendations for future policy directions include:

  • Use of the Affordable Care Act to ensure young children access to mental health services.
  • Design and track a set of outcomes related to mental health and overall wellness for children involved in the child welfare system.
  • Allow states to be innovative in approaching how to best provide and pay for both early childhood intervention and parent and/or family services.

If you work with, develop programs for, or make policy that impacts at-risk children, this topical brief is an excellent resource on the issues surrounding mental health supports for young children in the child welfare system. The complete report is available at the National Center for Children in Poverty’s website.

Report  citation:   Cooper, Janice L., Patti Banghart & Yumiko Aratani.  Addressing the Mental Health Needs of Young Children in the Child Welfare System: What Every Policymaker Should Know. September 2010. National Center for Children in Poverty.