Quality and Safety: Priorities for Northern Kentucky Head Start
by Florence Tandy, Executive Director, Northern Kentucky Community Action Commission (this article originally appeared in the Community Recorder on January 5, 2012) You may have seen recent news stories about an Inspector General report outlining safety violations in Head Start centers throughout the country. While the news reported the violations as “widespread,” in reality violations were found in 24 programs identified among more than 1,600 grantees as being most at risk for noncompliance of health and safety standards. Given the seriousness with which we take health and safety regulations at our Head Start program, I was not surprised that 21 of the 24 grantees acted swiftly, and corrected their deficiencies. Nor was I surprised that the remaining three grantees lost their funding. If anything, the Inspector General investigation proves that there are systems in place to ensure that Head Start grantees comply with stringent health and safety standards. In case you are concerned about Northern Kentucky’s Head Start program, proudly operated by Northern Kentucky Community Action Commission since 1965, here are some facts. At NKCAC, child safety is our number one concern. Period. Beyond safety of the child, we make sure that the children in our program are prepared for success in kindergarten. They learn numeracy and literacy skills, receive comprehensive medical and dental screenings, and have any special needs addressed. We have seven Head Start centers serving 444 three and four year olds in four Northern Kentucky counties. Nearly all of the families are low or very low income. About 10% are Hispanic; and 34% are African-American or bi-racial. Eleven percent has a disability. Each center provides a healthy breakfast, lunch, and afternoon snack along with nutrition counseling for parents. Children with disabilities receive individualized services that address their specific needs. Parent involvement is emphasized because we are trying to foster a lifetime commitment to education. Head Start, with about 75% of our funding from federal grants, is governed by a complicated set of regulations – some 2,000 in all – set out by the Department of Health and Human Services. In addition, we undergo health, fire, childcare licensing, financial, and USDA reviews every year. Every three years, the Office of Head Start conducts an intensive review of the program. All the research points to the critical window of opportunity from birth through age five as THE key to a child’s success in life. As early childhood expert, W. S. Barnett, concluded in his 2008 study, “Well-designed preschool education programs produce long-term improvements in school success, including higher achievement test scores, lower rates of grade repetition and special education, and higher educational attainment. Some preschool programs are also associated with reduced delinquency and crime in childhood and adulthood. The strongest evidence suggests that economically disadvantaged children reap long-term benefits from preschool.” Sadly, many low-income children do not have the opportunity for a quality preschool experience. But when these children walk through the doors of Northern Kentucky’s Head Start program, they are entering a safe learning environment designed to give them a range of educational, health, and family support services that will place them on a pathway to success. At NKCAC we are proud of our Head Start program, the safety of our centers, the quality of the services we provide, and the outcomes our children achieve. Our teachers and support staff will accept no less, because these children deserve – and the region needs –the strong start that Head Start provides. LINKS OF INTEREST: NKCAC Head Start’s program description (from our website) NKCAC Head Start’s Facebook Page National Head Start Association