September marks the beginning of the school year and a familiar sight in our Head Start program: a child’s first day of class. Anxious at first, she soon adjusts to her new routine and looks forward to spending her days doing fun crafts and playing with the other children. She likes snack time, holding the door for her classmates and enjoys a sense of pride when her teachers commend her artistic abilities and recognize how well she brushes her teeth.
What she doesn’t realize is that her time spent in Head Start is supporting her social, cognitive and emotional growth and preparing her to be successful in school – and beyond. She isn’t aware that regular attendance increases the immediate and long-term benefits of Head Start but she does know she likes to go to school.
By November, she is unfortunately missing a day or two of Head Start every week. The reasons can vary. Perhaps a close family member falls ill, one of her parents loses a job, or both. Events like these drain her family’s modest savings and soon they find themselves behind on bills and rent. An eviction notice is issued, and the family is in crisis. Amidst the chaos and instability, her parents are hard-pressed to transport their daughter to Head Start each day.
What does the future hold for this child and her family?
Thankfully, we can make significant impacts in the lives and futures of children and parents when we direct our services with the wellbeing of the whole family in mind. Building upon decades of knowledge and experience in providing services intended to empower and uplift Washington County residents, Community Action is utilizing a Whole Family Approach to address the unique and complex needs of every family member.
Launched in 2018, the Whole Family Approach Pilot is focused on providing services to 25 families who have children enrolled in Head Start and who qualify for emergency financial assistance because of economic hardship and/or the loss of stable housing. For the families selected they are swiftly connected to any service for which they qualify; including emergency rental assistance, career coaching, access to adult education opportunities and family development/coaching. A holistic approach to providing resources and opportunities to children and parents “helps both generations make progress together,” says Carrie Leavitt, Program Services Manager with Community Action.
How does this approach change the story for our family? During her enrollment in Head Start, our staff conduct an assessment to determine if her parents are eligible for other supportive services. They learn that they qualify for emergency rental assistance and utilize the service to avoid a traumatic eviction. With immediate housing needs addressed, a member of our Family Development team connects the parents with Workforce Training Programs and a Career Coach to establish longer term occupation goals. The child’s Head Start attendance is consistent; she grows, learns and acquires skills which will help pave her way to a brighter future.
The whole family received resources during a critical time and now the whole family makes progress to a healthier, more hopeful tomorrow.