It was a difficult call to make, but as of the end of this school year, Head Start services will no longer be available to young children and their families in Barton, Pawnee, Rice and Stafford counties, said Pat Fisher, public affairs/media specialist for the Health and Human Service’s Administration for Children and Families, which oversees the program.
The four counties are currently served by the McPherson office of the Denver-based Community Development Institute Head Start. Area Head Start offices referred all questions to the ACF in Washington, D.C.
Currently, there are 23 staff serving the Head Start programs in the three counties. Of the currently enrolled children, 45 were eligible for Head Start services next year, and thus impacted by the program’s closing.
Head Start services will continue as planned through May 23 when the program was scheduled to close for the summer. The program promotes school readiness of children ages birth to five from low-income families.
A search came up with the following Head Start locations in the impacted area: In Great Bend at First Congregational United Church of Christ, 3400 21st St.; in Larned at Larned Head Start Preschool, 1024 Broadway; in Lyons at Lyons Head Start, 508 East Ave. South; and in Stafford at 318 E. Broadway.
This leaves 26 Head Start programs in Kansas serving the rest of the state.
A tough call
“The Office of Head Start at HHS’ Administration for Children and Families has made the difficult decision to cease operations and funding of the Head Start program in South Central Kansas after the conclusion of this school year,” Fisher said. “The Head Start program is closing because no organization has applied to provide Head Start services in Pawnee, Barton, Rice and Stafford counties.”
Head Start programming has been carried out in recent years by Community Development Institute Head Start (CDI Head Start) based in McPherson. “Because OHS makes every effort to reduce service disruption to children and families, CDI Head Start has an ongoing relationship with the ACF to provide Head Start services on an interim basis in communities throughout the country where there is no currently designated provider.”
CDI Head Start would have provided services until a formal competitive process for finding a grantee can be completed by ACF and a Head Start grant is awarded to an agency. But,
ACF conducted multiple competitive processes to fund a permanent agency in the three counties over the last eight years, but no organization has applied to carry on the Head Start program in this service area.
Fisher said ACF cannot continue to fund CDI Head Start in this area as an interim service provider.
“Ceasing operations and funding of a Head Start program in a service area is a very unusual step,” Fisher said. This is the only Head Start service area that is closing in 2019 because no community organization has applied to be the permanent Head Start provider.
The Tribune’s follow-up questions asking is it too late for an agency to apply, what sort of agency is eligible, how long the application process takes and where ACF had advertised the request for applicants had not been responded to as of presstime.
About Head Start
Head Start and Early Head Start programs offer a variety of services, depending on community needs. Many Head Start and Early Head Start programs are based in centers and schools. Other programs are located in child care centers and family child care homes.
Some offer home-based services that assign dedicated staff who conduct weekly visits to children in their own home and work with the parent.
Head Start supports children’s development by preparing them for school and beyond, health screenings and nutrition, and support of parents and families.
Delivered through 1,700 agencies in local communities, programs provide services to over a million children every year. More than 80 percent of children served 3- and 4-year-olds.
Infants, toddlers and pregnant women make up just under 20 percent of Head Start enrollment, and are served through Early Head Start programs. Early Head Start programs are available to the family until the child turns 3 and is ready to transition into Head Start or another pre-K program.
In January of 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson declared The War on Poverty in his State of the Union speech. Head Start arose from this and the need to help communities meet the needs of disadvantaged preschool children.
In September of 1995, the first Early Head Start grants were given. In October of 1998, Head Start was reauthorized to expand to full-day and full-year services.
Head Start was most recently reauthorized again in 2007 with bipartisan support. The Improving Head Start for School Readiness Act of 2007 has several provisions to strengthen Head Start quality.
Head Start has served over 32 million children since 1965.