May 2011 U.S. Poverty Action

Contact and Visit Your Local Head Start Program

Site Visits Help You Make the Case for Protecting Early Childhood Programs

To better understand the critical role that Head Start, Early Head Start, and child care programs play in your community, plan to contact and visit a local Head Start center in May. Meet or speak with a local Head Start representative about the work they do, the impact on your community, and what they need to better serve hard working, low-income families. You can then use the stories and information you gather for your meetings, calls, letters, and e-mails to members of Congress.

  1. Find contact information for your local Head Start programs. If your group is not already connected to local Head Start programs, the national Early Childhood Learning Center will help you locate a Head Start program near you: http://eclkc.ohs.acf.hhs.gov/hslc/HeadStartOffices.
  2. Once you find a local center, call and introduce yourself as a RESULTS volunteer in the community (please do not show up to your local Head Start center without an appointment).
  3. Tell them that RESULTS groups across the country are lobbying Congress to protect Head Start, Early Head Start, and child care services from reckless budget cuts in Congress. Tell them that RESULTS recognizes the important role these programs play strengthening your community.
  4. Let them know how their expertise can help your group better inform your members of Congress about the positive impact these programs have on the communities they represent.
  5. Ask if you may schedule a time for your RESULTS group to do a site visit to their Head Start center. Let them know that in addition to getting information, you are also hoping to gather stories about their program to share with members of Congress. If permitted, ask if it would be possible to meet with some of the parents who participate in the program during your visit.
  6. At the meeting, inform yourself about the impact of Head Start and Early Head Start on families locally by asking some of the following questions:
    • How many children and families do you currently serve and what are the demographics of the people that you serve? (i.e. race, gender, socioeconomic status, etc.) Also, how many staff do you have and how many of them are current or former Head Start parents or students?
    • Is there a strong demand for Head Start and Early Head Start services in your community? If so, do you have a wait list? How many children are on that list?
    • What services does the program offer? How do the parents feel about the services you offer?
    • What is the feedback from the parents and the community about your local program?
    • Do you have any data or examples of how the recent investments in Head Start and Early Head Start have helped your program and the families your serve? What would happen if those funds were cut (i.e. how many slots would they lose, service cuts, layoffs of staff)
    • If you had additional funding for your program, what would you use it to do? Or on the flip side, what are you not able to do now because of a lack of funding?
    • One way that we like to advocate is by helping those directly impacted by policies tell personal stories that can bring the emotion appeal to the issues that we face, or relay their stories. Would any parents be willing to participate in a meeting with a member of Congress to tell their story? Do you know of any personal stories we could share with our members of Congress?
    • How can we work more closely together in the future to support your work? (You might offer to train clients in advocacy skills, share the latest legislative information from Washington, etc.)
  7. Follow up to thank them for their time and let them know how your RESULTS group is using the information in our advocacy work. Be sure to invite them to attend one of your local RESULTS meetings to see what we do.

Contact Meredith Dodson ([email protected]) or Rebecca Van Maren ([email protected]) for questions about and feedback from your visits.

Using Local Data and Stories to Make the Case for Head Start and Early Head Start

Early childhood programs have been on a rollercoaster ride as of late. In 2009, as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), Congress increased funding for Head Start/Early Head Start and the Child Care Development Block Grant (CCDBG) by $2 billion each. In 2009 and 2010, these increases helped open up 7,000 Head Start and Early Head Start classrooms, as well as provide 200,000 low-income children child care while their parents worked. In 2011, however, the House of Representatives has sought to undermine these gains by targeting Head Start and child care for deep cuts. Fortunately, RESULTS volunteers, along with our allies, were able to stave off most of these cuts in the recently-passed FY 2011 budget. In that budget, Head Start/ Early Head Start will see a $340 million increase in funding, ensuring that current enrollment is maintained. CCDBG will receive a $100 million increase, while will preserve some but not all the slots created under ARRA. Because of these investments, thousands of children and their parents will not lose these critical services in 2011. However, this reprieve could be short lived. The House’s FY 2012 budget proposes slashing domestic programs as a misguided and failed attempt to balance the budget. Without a sustained effort to push back against these reckless and devastating cuts, they could become reality. We need to put a local face on these programs so that members of Congress think twice before turning their backs on low-income children.

This is a great time for us to prepare for this effort by deepening our knowledge of Head Start, raising awareness about its benefits, and joining with other partners in this cause. Reaching out to Head Start and Early Head Start programs to learn more about what they are doing to help families in your community can be a powerful tool in your advocacy toolbox. A recent survey of congressional staff asked what factors influence members of Congress the most. The top response was receiving information and stories about how an issue or program affects people in their home districts. Talking and visiting with local Head Start personnel and parents is an excellent way to demonstrate that local impact. These programs can not only provide an overview of how they work and who they serve, they can also help paint a picture for decision-makers through the stories they share. It is one thing to know how many children budget cuts would eliminate from a program; it is another to have them “meet” some of those children (either through stories or having actual parents attend a lobby meeting) and emotionally connect your members of Congress to the issue. These tools will make your meetings with your members of Congress either in your state or in Washington DC during the RESULTS conference all that more powerful and effective.

Site Visits Can Look Many Different Ways

Because every Head Start program is different, there are multiple ways you could approach your site visit. You want to make the most of your experience while also being sensitive to the program’s schedule. Below are some ideas of activities you could ask to do during your site visit as well as during your continued effort to build a relationship with your local program.

  • Meet with program staff to learn more about their program (see questions above)
  • Observe a classroom(s)
  • Attend/observe a parent policy council meeting
  • Lead advocacy training at a policy council meeting
  • Collect written or video stories of parents and staff. For tips and insight visit Rebecca Van Maren’s RESULTS blog post, and Half in Ten’s Shared Prosperity Project.
  • Bring a Head Start parent to a lobby meeting
  • Schedule site visit for your Senator or Representative to attend

Head Start Can Have Huge Impacts on Children and Their Families

Below are some stories from Head Start parents and staff collected by Emerson Hunger Fellow Rebecca Van Maren at the recent National Head Start Association conference in Kansas City, MO.

Melissa Rhine, Warrenton, MO: I’m a current parent . . . and the current chair person for the policy council. Head start has empowered me in several ways. Because of Head start I was able to get a promotion at my job, with having the adequate child care for my children, which allowed me to become more self-sufficient in getting off of Medicaid, food stamps, or any housing assistance. Head start has helped me to gain self esteem. I have become a calmer parent and was actually nominated for the Parent of the Year Award this year, and actually came in second runner up at the national level. Prior to being in Head Start, I kept to myself, and I was a loner. Head Start has allowed me to come out of my shell and be the parent that I want to be.

Jesse Ellsworth, Eolia, MO: I’m a head Start Parent, my daughter is in Head Start. Head Start has helped benefit both me and my daughter. I feel like Head Start has helped build a great educational foundation for my daughter to continue on in public school. It’s also helped me take advantage of the programs they offer. It’s also given me free time to look for a better job and spend time with my daughter. I’m able to go into her classroom and read to her, and spend more one on one time with her in the classroom and eat lunch with her, and learn hands on what she’s learning and how I can help her with her education.

Tony Robinson, Camden, NJ: I’d like you to know how important [Head Start] is to Camden. To the point where we are making our menu’s heavier on Friday’s and Monday’s because we don’t know what the children are going to have [to eat] on the weekends. Part of my job as a nutrition coordinator is to make sure our children eat healthy, nutritious foods and I believe these programs are very, very important to the children in our nation and especially Camden, New Jersey.

You can watch videos of these and other stories at: http://www.halfinten.org/grassroots/stories. We will discuss going on site visits and using stories in our May 2011 RESULTS National Conference Call — Saturday, May 14, at 12:30 pm ET.