New Report Highlights the Need for Additional Head Start Outreach Effort to Migrant and Seasonal Workers

Jul 19, 2012

By Emily Firgens

In 2008, the National Agricultural Workers Survey (NAWS), which collects data annually on farmworker populations, added a supplemental survey on Migrant and Seasonal Head Start and agricultural workers' child care arrangements. A recent report, released by the Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation (OPRE) in the US Department of Health and Human Services, analyzes the responses of 700 agricultural workers to the NAWS MSHS supplement and shows a clear need for increasing outreach on MSHS services to eligible migrant families.

To be eligible for MSHS a household has to have one or more children under age 6, live at or below the federal poverty level, and have a parent who works a majority of their work hours in farmwork. The report finds that 61 percent of MSHS-eligible respondents use either parental care or relative care for their young children. Only 6 percent of the respondents whose families are eligible for MSHS used the program.   

Survey results also show that 41 percent of farmworkers interviewed (whose families were MSHS-eligible) had heard of MSHS and 78 percent of those who had heard of it had not used it. Over half of respondents, 58 percent, who were MSHS-eligible, said they preferred their current child care arrangements to enrolling in MSHS. Ten percent said they applied but there weren't any openings, and 5 percent said the hours were inconvenient. Over 70 percent of eligible families report "trust" as the reason for why they choose a particular child care arrangement.

MSHS offers critical support services to both children and families. MSHS-eligible children face a unique set of circumstances, such as having a home language other than English, coming from different cultural and ethnic backgrounds, and perhaps having parents who might not be familiar with the U.S. Oftentimes migrant families move into communities that do not have child care resources to meet their needs. MSHS provides these families with comprehensive early childhood services and family supports that address their unique needs. MSHS offers programs that align with parents' seasonal work schedules, help parents understand and utilize local services, and embrace children's and parents' diverse language and cultural backgrounds.

The MSHS program currently serves close to 35,000 migrant children and 2,500 seasonal children. Understanding the the current child care arrangements of eligible families and how they make these decisions can help MSHS reach even more children. Programs can work to build trust, particularly with new migrant communities, who may be less familiar with MSHS and learn from families how to better support their needs. Finally, more resources are needed to ensure that eligible families interested in MSHS are able to participate.

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