February 1st, 2010

Stimulus money will fund Rhode Island Early Head Start

The most vulnerable population in R.I. is about to get a leg up – or at least a tiny percentage of them will. Federal stimulus money totaling $1.6 million will be funding an expansion of R.I.’s Early Head Start program, which will provide for the program to serve another 80 families. But, that still leaves more than 90 percent of R.I.’s most impoverished infants and toddlers without these services.

But for those recipients, Early Head Start offers a range of services that can make a difference for a struggling family. “Research shows positive outcomes for these families,” says Rhonda Farrell, Head Start director at Tri-Town Community Action Agency, which will be receiving $224,189 of the funds through Sept. 2011. Tri-Town has administered an Early Head Start program since 1999, and the money will enable them to increase the families served from 40 to 58.

Children’s Friend, another social service agency that has operated for 175 years, will be receiving $1.5 million through Sept. 2011 and will be able to serve another 62 families in Providence (where it already has a program) and Pawtucket, which has never had an Early Head Start program.

Early Head Start programs provides services beginning in pregnancy until the child is three years old, at which point the child may be transitioned to Head Start. Head Start was established in 1965 for eligible four and five-year-olds and their families and Early Head Start began in 1995. According to David Caprio, MBA, executive director of Children’s Friend, Early Head Start serves a lower percentage of the eligible population than Head Start (which in R.I. serves close to half of those eligible). When the stimulus money runs out, agencies may have to cut services to the additional families. “We hope,” states Caprio, “that the federal government will find a way to continue the expansion of Early Head Start or that we can convince the state to pick up some of the funding.”

The services are offered in five areas, including child development (is the child ready for pre-kindergarten? does s/he have the requisite social and cognitive skills?); family development (professionals review the situations of all family members, scrutinizing safety, homelessness, domestic abuse and health needs of siblings); health and nutrition (registered nurses and nutritionists review prenatal care and also ensure that the children are gaining weight, getting proper medical treatment, checkups, vaccinations and appropriate nutrition and are properly referred to WIC or other services); mental health and disabilities (professionals assess mental health issues like parental stress and help family members get referrals); and parent involvement and community partnership (at least 51 percent of parents sit on a policy counsel at the agency, where they help review the budget, hiring, priorities and policies.

Early Head Start, says Caprio, costs from $10-12,000 per family per year. “This is such a well-deserved program,” states Farrell, “and such a successful program for families who would not otherwise have the opportunity to have an educational experience . . . for their youngest children and the most vulnerable population.”

By Elinor Nelson

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