In 2014, in the midst of difficult budget decisions, President Obama and Congress made a commitment to our youngest, most vulnerable children, and their families: they restored sequestration cuts to Head Start and Early Head Start programs across the country and added $500 million in new investments for additional quality services to infants, toddlers, and their parents. Head Start has a fifty-year history of two-generation work, and programs across the country enroll more than a million low-income families each year. These programs begin working with families not only to achieve goals for their children's healthy development and school readiness but also to meet family goals that may include stable housing, language and literacy, postsecondary education, and employment. Early Head Start, launched twenty years ago, provides these services to pregnant women and children up to age three – but Early Head Start is currently funded to serve less than 5 percent of infants and toddlers in poverty. The recent new investments in Early Head Start expansion and partnerships represent a renewed national commitment and an exciting opportunity to enhance communities' two-generation efforts.
Early Head Start-Child Care (EHS-CC) Partnerships are the main focus of new funds and have long been an option for service delivery. In existing partnerships, an EHS grantee works with one or more family child care homes, center-based child care facilities, or campus child care centers, depending on local child care infrastructure and resources. In most partnerships, an Early Head Start program funds some children's slots at their partner site, providing a mix of direct funding, staffing, supervision, and resources. Child care partners are required to meet the Head Start Program Performance Standards, which often raises quality in the child care sites. While child care programs generally desire to provide high-quality services, without the added resources of a partnership, many programs are unable to provide the intensive family service supports, health and mental health care access, disabilities support, and other comprehensive services that the most vulnerable children and families need to be successful. With the EHS-CC funding, new partnership grants will be available across the country. Additional details are available in the Grant Forecast from the Administration for Children and Families, and the Funding Opportunity Announcement was released on June 6.
In the context of two-generation work, these grants are all the more exciting because of how they can increase the supports available for parents pursuing their education in settings where campus child care has been undermined by the recession. Research and experience tell us that when low-income mothers raise their educational levels, their children's outcomes also rise. But data show that of students with children who enroll in two-year colleges, only 3.5 percent complete a BA within six years – and more than half drop out without a degree. A recent report from the Institute for Women's Policy Research found that more than 30 percent of women in college are balancing school with parenting, as well as nearly 20 percent of men. Those student parents are generally working but struggling financially, and they have higher levels of stress on nearly all measures than students who are not parenting. In the face of these struggles, the proportion of community colleges with campus-based child care has fallen during the past five years, and even where available it may not be able to meet the demand.
Early Head Start's two-generation approach of comprehensive support can address the stress of student parents by helping them navigate the many roles they are balancing, find additional supports, and relieve concerns about safe and nurturing settings for their children. Conversations are already under way in many communities about how to frame partnership applications, and we strongly encourage interested community colleges and Early Head Start programs to reach out to one another about opportunities to work together. Find contact information for your local Early Head Start program here.
This funding is an important opportunity to provide the care children and their families need through new and expanded partnerships between Early Head Start and campus child care programs, and to help two generations together achieve stable, secure futures.