For the past four years, All Our Kin has operated an Early Head Start – Family Child Care Partnership in collaboration with the United Way of Greater New Haven. During this time, our blog has highlighted many Early Head Start providers and the families in their programs because we believe that Early Head Start is a critical program that has a two-generational impact for struggling families.
This year is Head Start’s 50th anniversary. To mark the occasion, we want to take the time to celebrate the Early Head Start program and recognize our Early Head Start providers for their dedication and hard work!
The “whole child approach”
As Edward Zigler, one of the founders of the national Head Start program, recently told Yale News, “Before Head Start, programs for poor children were interested only in education. Head Start introduced the whole child approach. We recognized that these kids needed more than educational help and that their social and emotional development was also important. What also makes Head Start important is the strong focus on parent involvement.”
We are regularly reminded of the impact of both the “whole child approach” and the focus on parents. In the summer of 2014, Katina, a young mother who had never been able to finish high school, and Jeremy, a father participating in a job training program, contacted All Our Kin about enrolling their 2-year-old daughter Makayla in an Early Head Start program. At first, Makayla struggled with separation anxiety and cried every day when her mother dropped her off. After less than a year with Early Head Start provider Marie Gibson, Katina and Jeremy can see the progress their daughter has made: her social and cognitive skills are developing, and Makayla is now comfortable, confident, and ready to learn. Furthermore, because of having access to free, stable child care, Jeremy was ultimately able to find a job that supports his family, and Katina is attending school full-time to complete her GED.
“Early Head Start is a really beneficial program because it provides a stable, caring environment at no cost to parents. It gives families a chance to get on their feet,” says Kara Wevers, All Our Kin’s Early Head Start coordinator. “And the family child care providers who participate in All Our Kin’s EHS program are high quality. They meet federal standards and they always work with a developmentally appropriate curriculum.”
Above and beyond
All Our Kin’s EHS family child care providers go above and beyond to give families the support they need. They commit to conducting home visits and parent-teacher conferences for each child, screening children regularly to assess their development, submitting attendance records, completing daily health and safety inspections, and accepting visitors from the state and federal governments to ensure that they are meeting safety and quality standards. “Although it’s a lot of extra work, providers tell us that it’s completely worth it,” says Kara. “They can really impact the trajectory of the child and the child’s family, be there for them, and support them at such a critical point in their lives. Because family child care programs are small, children in family child care EHS programs receive quite a bit of one-on-one attention from providers. They form secure relationships with an adult who is committed to them and dedicated to bringing out the best in their development.”
Kara and the rest of All Our Kin’s EHS team do everything they can to support EHS providers and the families they serve. “We make sure that providers have the tools they need to do their jobs well, and we also pay Early Head Start providers at a higher rate” than the rates available through Care 4 Kids, Connecticut’s child care subsidy program.
Building stable families
In addition to receiving full-time child care from a high quality provider, families in All Our Kin’s EHS program receive comprehensive supports, like access to a family advocate who connects them with community resources and works with them to achieve goals. This support was critical for Lillian, a mother who encountered All Our Kin after her husband had been incarcerated and she had found herself homeless with two children and a third on the way. Lillian was able to secure a spot for her youngest child in an Early Head Start program with a family child care provider named Nicole, who was also able to provide care for her two older children before and after school. Lillian worked with All Our Kin’s family advocate to achieve stability for her family and move out of the shelter into a new apartment. She finished her degree in social work and secured a full-time job as a clinician at a substance abuse clinic.
Stories like Lillian’s show why programs like EHS, which sees parents’ success as integral to children’s outcomes, succeed. Even if a child is enrolled in a high quality child care program during the day, if her family is experiencing homelessness, it will be difficult for her to thrive. Likewise, without access to stable child care, parents cannot pursue their own educational or professional goals. According to Elaine Zimmerman, the Executive Director of Connecticut’s Commission on Children, programs that treat the family as a unit “offer seamless mechanisms for the family to climb a staircase of success and opportunity.”
Families enrolled in Early Head Start also receive wraparound health services. “Health is an important component of Head Start,” says Sara Feudo, All Our Kin’s nurse consultant, who works with providers and families to ensure that children are in a safe environment and learn healthy habits. “When children are healthy, they can be engaged in learning. When children have special health care needs, the program is modified and adapted to provide services.”
All Our Kin is incredibly grateful for each of our Early Head Start providers: Melissa Rivera, Debra Kelly, Lottie Brown, Marie Gibson, and Maria Matos. They voluntarily choose to take on extra work and meet high standards of quality, and they serve as rocks of stability in children’s and families’ lives during times of turmoil. To read more about some of these providers and their child care programs, check out a few of our past blog posts:
A new opportunity
This year, All Our Kin has the opportunity to expand our Early Head Start program. We are doubling the number of children that we serve, and expanding beyond New Haven to West Haven and Hamden as well. We are thrilled to be able to reach more vulnerable families with young children and give them the tools they need to succeed.
This expansion means that we are looking for additional family child care providers to join the Early Head Start program. These providers must be licensed family child care providers in good standing with the Office of Early Childhood, who either have or are willing to work towards a Child Development Associate (CDA) credential. They must participate in the federal food program and purchase liability insurance (which All Our Kin can help pay for). They also must be willing to commit to the extra work involved in being an EHS provider, which includes meeting standards of high quality, implementing a research-based curriculum, completing specially-designed professional development training each year and conducting regular assessments of children’s developmental progress.
If you are a family child care provider in New Haven, West Haven or Hamden who is interested in the Early Head Start program, call Kara Wevers at 203-772-2294 (extension 17).