In Focus: Head Start/Early Head Start

Dec 22, 2014  |  PERMALINK »

Looking Back, Looking Ahead

By Hannah Matthews

There’s no question that 2014 was a monumental year for early childhood policy.  After a tumultuous end of 2013 brought about in part by a partial federal government shutdown, 2014 began with Congress approving a more than $1 billion increase in federal investments in child care and early education, including $500 million to support Early Head Start-Child Care (EHS-CC) partnerships to increase the supply of high-quality infant-toddler care and $250 million for Preschool Development Grants to advance high-quality state pre-kindergarten programs. While applicants prepared submissions during the year, CLASP worked with states in particular to understand the importance of better state subsidy policies to support successful partnerships.

Following the significant budgetary win, the even-more momentous CCDBG reauthorization began with passage in the Senate in March and concluded with the President’s signature in November. After 18 years, significant changes were made to the child care subsidy program to improve the health, safety, and quality of child care and make the subsidy system work better for low-income children and families. The bipartisan reauthorization had strong support in the House and Senate. We are gratified that CLASP’s voice has been important to the conversation, with many ideas that we promoted about continuity of child care assistance included in the final law, and our Executive Director having testified at a House hearing on the reauthorization. The final FY 2015 spending bill agreed to earlier this month increased CCDBG funding by $75 million. While this was an important message of support for the Congressional reauthorization, it still leaves states with large budget gaps in order to implement provisions of the new law.

And finally, on the heels of a new law and new early childhood investments, CLASP was excited to be a part of the White House’s Early Education Summit to bring much-needed attention to the importance of investment in child care and early education. At the Summit, recipients of the Preschool Development Grants and EHS-CC partnership grant competitions were announced, sending the resources committed last January to states and local communities. 

With these tremendous accomplishments, this year brought sobering moments as well. In February, CLASP first reported the slow decline in the number of children receiving CCDBG-funded child care, and in October we reported, based on FY 2013 data, the number had reached a 15-year low. The program has not served so few children since 1997. Federal and state spending on child care assistance fell to a 10-year low. In September, the US Census Bureau released annual poverty data showing that while overall child poverty fell, an unacceptably high number of children, in particular young children and Black and Hispanic children, continue to experience the profound impacts of being consigned to a childhood in poverty.

Taken together, it’s clear that 2015 will be a year with challenges ahead, but great opportunity and potential as well. The work yet undone motivates us to do more in the coming year. Look for more resources from CLASP as we turn our attention to CCDBG implementation, including the need for significant new resources to cover implementation costs and to stem the tide on the decline of children getting help. Also in 2014, we’ve made efforts to seize opportunities with the greatest potential to improve the lives of poor children and families. In doing so, we brought attention –and worked towards solutions – on several important issues including maternal depression and job schedule challenges. We will continue to find the opportunities ripe for positive change in 2015. CLASP wishes you the best for a happy holiday season and the promise of good things to come for young children.

In case you missed them, here are some selected publications from the CLASP Child Care and Early Education team in 2014:

Aug 14, 2014  |  PERMALINK »

Head Start Children, Families, Staff, and Programs in 2013

By Christina Walker and Stephanie Schmit

Head Start programs provide poor children and their families with comprehensive early education and support services. Each year, programs are required to submit a Program Information Report (PIR) to the Office of Head Start on participating children, pregnant women, and families, as well as the staff serving the Head Start population.

In 2013, the Head Start program served more than 1.1 million children, approximately 166,000 of whom were under the age of 3, and 15,400 pregnant women through Head Start (HS) preschool, Early Head Start (EHS), and Migrant and Seasonal Head Start (MSHS) programs combined. HS preschool served 85 percent of all federally funded slots, with EHS and MSHS each serving 12 and 3 percent of slots respectively. The 2013 appropriation for all Head Start programs was just over $8 billion; however, federal budget cuts (known as sequestration) were in effect during this school year, resulting in reduced funding for this and other federal programs. While some Head Start programs managed sequestration by reducing the number of children served, others cut back schedules or made other cuts in their budgets.

The program information data demonstrate how important Head Start services are in the lives of these children and families. In 2013, the PIR data showed that:

  • Seventy-five percent of families accessed at least one family service through their Head Start program. The most frequently accessed services were parent education (50 percent) and health education (47 percent).
  • At the end of their Head Start enrollment, 97 percent of children had continuous access to medical care, 96 percent had health insurance, and 96 percent were up to date on their immunizations.
  • Sixty-three percent of families using Head Start included at least one employed parent, and fifteen percent of families had at least one parent in school or job training.
  • Ninety-four percent of pregnant women enrolled in EHS received prenatal health care and 76 percent received postnatal health care. Additionally, 92 percent of pregnant women had health insurance at the end of the program year, 40 percent received a dental examination, and 31 percent accessed mental health interventions (a decrease of 4 percent from the previous year).
  • In the Head Start Preschool Program, 95 percent of teachers had at least an associate degree (A.A.) in early childhood education or a related field—a 2 percent increase from 2012. In addition, 67 percent of teachers had a bachelor’s degree (B.A.) or higher in early childhood education or a related field—a 5 percent increase from 2012.
  • In the MSHS program, 98 percent of children had a medical home for ongoing medical care and 91 percent had a source for ongoing dental care by the end of the program year. 

Read more about Head Start preschool, Early Head Start, and Migrant and Seasonal (new this year) participants, families, and staff. 

View state-by-state Head Start and Early Head Start data through CLASP's unique web-based DataFinder.

Jul 16, 2014  |  PERMALINK »

Meeting Children’s Mental Health Needs in Child Care and Early Education

By Christine Johnson-Staub

More than half of children under age 18 have been diagnosed with at least one mental health disorder, according to a new report by Child Trends and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. While the authors make the case for reforming health and mental health services to increase access for children and youth, they also present broader recommendations to support child wellness, emphasizing healthy child-adult relationships, along with positive routines and practices for children. Their approach has implications for services, family engagement and support, and professional development in early childhood settings.

  • Serving children in high-quality child care settings that offer comprehensive services to families is important both to offer children consistent care and routines, and to identify children and families in need of support. High-quality early childhood programs ensure that young children access developmental screenings that may uncover potential mental health problems. According to early findings of the National Survey of Early Care and Education presented at the recent Head Start National Research Conference, almost all (97.9 percent) Head Start centers offer assistance with developmental screening, which helps identify mental health concerns. Nearly all (88.5 percent) public pre-kindergarten programs offer screening, as do 73.4 percent of private early childhood programs.
  • Caring for children with family stress and potential mental health concerns, as well as related behavior challenges, is an urgent training need for the early childhood field. One approach to building the capacity of early childhood staff is the mental health consultation model. An increasing number of states offer programs serving young children some kind of mental health, health, or behavioral consultation, in which the consultant can provide training and guidance in identification of mental health concerns, referral to and coordination of follow-up diagnosis and treatment, and strategies to support the child’s development and learning. 
  • Finally, the report suggests that two-generation approaches using effective family engagement strategies  provide parents with the skills they need to manage their children’s behavior and mental health needs, while also potentially identifying needs of the adult for mental health or other services. These types of two-generation approaches can be particularly successful in strengthening the capacity of both parents and children. Parent and child wellbeing are inextricably linked to one another, and challenges to either can interfere with family economic success and positive child outcomes.

Policymakers can support child wellness and increase access to mental health services by looking for opportunities to incorporate comprehensive services and related supports into their child care quality, professional development, and financing systems. Expanding access to high-quality programs like Early Head Start and Head Start can also make mental health services more available to those children who are most vulnerable.  While supporting child wellness and increasing access to mental health services is a challenge, high-quality child care and early education settings provide an opportunity to identify and serve young children at risk, while building and supporting the family’s capacity to meet their mental health needs. 

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