Parents across Connecticut awoke on Tuesday morning to the news that our government had entered a partial shutdown, triggered by Congress’ failure to pass a Continuing Resolution for the federal budget. For some of these parents, the shutdown has had an immediate and damaging effect: their children will not be able to attend Head Start programs until funding is restored.
Head Start is a federal program that prepares low-income children ages birth to 5 to enter school by providing them with learning environments that promote cognitive, social, and emotional development. Children in Head Start programs have access to wraparound services including health (such as dental screenings), nutrition, and social services. Nationwide, 1,600 Head Start grantees serve close to one million children annually.
In Bridgeport, Head Start grantee Action for Bridgeport Community Development (ABCD) was forced to close the doors on its thirteen Head Start sites after its funding ran out on October 1. ABCD’s closure leaves more than 1,000 children without access to their teachers and classrooms, over 300 early childhood educators without jobs, and many low-income parents struggling to find safe child care options so that they can attend work. Because Head Start programs receive their annual grants at different times of the year, only programs that were scheduled for funding renewal on October 1st, like ABCD, are currently being affected by the shutdown.
According to a statement released by David Morgan, Chair/President of the Connecticut Head Start Association, the shutdown means “[n]o classroom learning experiences for over a thousand of Connecticut’s most vulnerable learners today and beyond….No family support services. No health and well-being services. No child development services.”
Head Start serves as an essential support for at-risk children and families in Connecticut. Parents are only eligible to enroll their children in Head Start if they make less than 100% of the federal poverty level or meet other criteria to determine their need.
Head Start programs have already been negatively affected by the federal sequester; 57,000 children lost access to Head Start as a result of the federal budget cuts this year. Although only October Head Start grantees are currently affected by the government shutdown, more Head Start programs—and the children and families that rely on them—will be forced to close if the shutdown continues. Through All Our Kin’s Early Head Start for Family Child Care program, we’ve witnessed how Early Head Start can offer much-needed stability to children and families. We hope that the funding required for this vital program will soon be restored.
For more information, please see articles from the Connecticut Post (“Federal shutdown, local pain” and “Government shutdown hits families”), New Haven Register (“New Haven Head Start safe for now despite federal shutdown”), and WFSB (“Government shutdown closes Head Start program in Bridgeport”).