Getting a Good Head Start for the Future

Getting a Good Head Start for the Future - May 17, 2015

Ideally, everyone in Oklahoma enjoyed a healthy breakfast this morning. Ideally, everyone got a good night’s sleep in a comfortable bed. Ideally, families protect babies and nurture children. Ideally, personal responsibility and civic duty are traits that are a part of the psyche of all citizens.

Unfortunately, we do not live in an ideal world. We never have and we never will.

For reasons too numerous to address in this short space, we live in a world of advantages and disadvantages. We live in a world of economic inequities, social inequities and educational inequities all contributing to inequities in opportunity.

This month marks the 50th Anniversary of Head Start. In 1965, President Lyndon Johnson established Head Start as a way to help disadvantaged preschoolers develop social, emotional, early reading and math and physical skills they need to be successful in school.

Head Start programs promote school readiness through improved access to educational, health, nutritional, social and other services to children and their families by engaging parents, families and community support.

In 1994, Early Head Start was added to address the comprehensive need of children under age 3 and pregnant women in families with low income.

Head Start (HS) and Early Head Start (EHS) are based on the idea that “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” and in 2014 provided Education Services, Health Services and Family Service to nearly 20,000 disadvantaged children and over 200 pregnant women across Oklahoma.

Educationally, HS and EHS identify special needs, promote family literacy, align curriculum and assessments with public schools with a goal toward making children ready for school.

Health wise, HS and EHS coordinate medical, dental, vision and hearing screenings and referrals, nutrition services, health education, mental health screening and referrals and preventive medical care. Since 2013, over 3,000 children across Oklahoma have been diagnosed and are receiving medical care for chronic conditions that would otherwise be neglected or gone undiagnosed.

During that period in the state of Oklahoma, 336 children have been identified as anemic; 1,351 asthmatic children are now receiving treatment; 997 children have been diagnosed with hearing difficulties; vision problems have been addressed in 1,585 children; and 33 children were discovered to have juvenile diabetes.

Each of these conditions affects a child’s ability to learn and cause them to fall further and further behind, socially and educationally.  Their impediments hinder their maturity into adults who are able to contribute to society.  Each condition was treatable and if they had not been discovered through Head Start and Early Head Start screening, control or recovery of the condition would have been delayed. A consequence of the delay is that treatment if possible, would have been much more costly.

Early immunization also helps protect all society.  In fact, more than 91% of all HS and EHS enrollees are up to date on their shot records, protecting the population as a whole.

There are many ways to assess the effectiveness of government programs and assessment of any government expenditure is essential and encouraged in an open society, however, it is difficult to find a program whose success has been so widely recognized across party lines as the Head Start program. Despite this success, the Oklahoma’s appropriation to Head Start has decreased by more than 10% since 2009. Those cuts equate to more than $260,000 per year.

The program keeps parents, families and the community engaged and provides links to community resources giving the family direction by setting parent and child goals out of poverty and disadvantage while educating parents and instructing them on parenting skills.  Its mission of providing disadvantaged children with a “head start” toward school readiness continues to be a government program that works.

Happy 50th Birthday to Head Start programs everywhere and thank you to the millions of staff and volunteers that have joined together to give our children a hand up instead of a hand out.

Your comments or questions are invited at 405-557-7401 or David.Perryman@okhouse.gov.