Head Start and Early Head Start in Alaska are a crucial component in helping children and families across our state be more prepared for success in school and in life. However, many people don’t have a solid understanding of what services these programs provide or how they operate. Let’s take a quick look…
Broadly speaking, Head Start (ages 3-5) and Early Head Start (expectant mothers – age 3) are federally funded and federally regulated programs. Over $40 million in federal funding is delivered directly to local grantees in Alaska – it does not come through the state government. However, each local grantee must provide a 20 percent non-federal match (cash or in-kind) against their federal grant to demonstrate that states and local communities have “skin in the game” and remain confident in the grantee providing the services. The State of Alaska contributes $6.8 million towards this match and grantees gather the remainder of the required match in a variety of ways. Some examples include contributions from Native corporations, United Way and other local grants, facilities or community services provided at reduced rates, parent volunteer hours, and donations received from individuals and corporate donors.
While the federal government provides the law (The Head Start Act) and the regulations (Head Start Program Performance Standards) about how these programs must be operated, they allow much flexibility in allowing local grantees to deliver services in a way that meets the needs of their local community. Programs must do a community assessment that provides a careful examination of what the needs within their community are. Local oversight is provided by two governance bodies: a governing board (board of directors or elected officials) and a policy council (comprised of parents of enrolled children). These two groups are tasked with making sure the grantee offers services that best meet the specific needs of the children and families that have been identified in the assessment.
In Alaska, there are currently 17 different grantees providing Head Start and Early Head Start services in over 100 communities all around the state. In the 2016-2017 school year, Alaska grantees served 3,558 families and 3,879 children. Of these children, 762 were enrolled in an Early Head Start program and 3,117 were enrolled in a Head Start program. Approximately 60 percent of enrolled children were from families who had income below 100 percent of poverty (as an example, a family of four would need to have income of less than $30,750). Approximately 8 percent of enrolled children were homeless, and another 6 percent of enrolled children were in foster care.
So what services were actually provided and what impact does Head Start or Early Head Start have? As mentioned above, these programs serve both the child and the family. We know and understand that parents are the first and most important teachers for their children and will have the greatest opportunity for having a positive impact on their children. The top five services that were provided to families in Alaska during the last school year were:
- Parenting Education (1,318)
- Health Education (885)
- Emergency/Crisis Intervention, such as meeting immediate needs for food, clothing or shelter (573)
- Housing Assistance, such as subsidies, utilities, repairs, etc. (356)
- Mental Health Services (251)
Other examples of family services that were provided include adult education, and asset-building services such as financial education, job training, and English as a second language. Generally speaking, services to families are determined by what each individual family identifies as a need or a goal that they would like assistance in working towards. Our job is to help these parents be outstanding advocates for their child and to equip them with the parenting and self-sufficiency tools that they will need moving forward. We provide these family services directly when we can, and/or connect them to other community resources that might be available.
The services provided to children are individualized as well. Each child comes into our programs at a different place and on their own developmental path. We work very closely with parents to determine where each child is developmentally and to determine what child goals we should reach for together. Our staff use ongoing assessment tools to observe and measure where children are in a host of areas at the beginning, middle and end of each school year, helping and encouraging each child to progress all along the way. Teaching Strategies GOLD® is the assessment tool that Head Start programs in Alaska utilize. The charts below give a few examples of the growth that 4-year-old children in Alaska Head Start programs made last year, as measured by observations and assessments documented in Teaching Strategies GOLD®.
Based on 2016/2017 data. N=1299
To demonstrate growth in these areas, we would see the percentages of “meets” and “exceeds” (orange and gray) to be getting larger in the spring after a school year in our program, while the percentage of children who are “below” (blue) should be decreasing.
In addition to the academic areas above, we also assist children to be more prepared for school readiness by helping them develop their social-emotional skills. We teach and assess growth in dimensions like following limits and expectations, and balancing the needs and rights of self and others – both of which are also very important as children move into their school years.
Finally, there is ongoing research into the long-term outcomes for families and children who participate in Head Start and Early Head Start. A very recent study released by Michigan State University found that, “Kids up to age 5 in the federal government’s preschool program were 93 percent less likely to end up in foster care than kids in the child welfare system who had no type of early care and education.” Another study described in the Wall Street Journal in September suggests that the impacts of participation carry over to the next generation as demonstrated by this quote: “Societal investments in early childhood programs can disrupt intergenerational
transmission of the effects of poverty.”
For more information about Head Start or Early Head Start in Alaska, visit the Alaska Head Start Association website at www.akheadstart.org. You also can connect to the local grantee in your community to find more information about enrolling your child, the specific services that are provided, and/or supporting and partnering with them in the important work that is being done!
Mark Lackey is the executive director of CCS Early Learning. Formerly known as Chugiak Children’s Services, CCS Early Learning is a private 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that provides early childhood services in the Mat-Su Borough and in Chugiak and Eagle River.