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16 Head Start Sites Share $3 Million for Services for Homeless

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WASHINGTON--Sixteen Head Start programs have been awarded grants to help them develop strategies for serving homeless preschool children and families.

The $3 million in grants, announced this month by Secretary of Health and Human Services Donna E. Shalala, is intended to help Head Start programs enroll homeless children who are not now being served and to offer specialized services more "responsive'' to their needs.

Craig Turner, the chief of the program-management and operations branch of the Head Start Bureau, acknowledged that the amount of money involved represents a "fairly modest effort.''

But, he added, "we felt there might be a much bigger payoff if we could not only get services to homeless families, but make some of the information learned from this process available to other grantees.''

Head Start--which offers educational, health, and other support services to disadvantaged preschoolers and their families--already reaches some homeless children.

But the Head Start Bureau of the Health and Human Services Department wanted to more fully address concerns "about the vulnerability of kids that are in homeless families and the extent to which Head Start programs are able to meet their needs,'' Mr. Turner said.

Adrienne Bigmon, a Head Start specialist in the department's Administration for Children, Youth, and Families, said former Secretary of Health and Human Services Louis H. Sullivan initially championed the idea. Among other strategies, she said, Dr. Sullivan convened several interagency groups to explore ways to better serve homeless families.

The grant competition was launched in May.

Extended Hours, Services

The programs chosen were awarded from $140,000 to $200,000 for the first year of what will be three-year projects.

The awards will allow some programs to enroll more homeless children and others to begin serving them for the first time, said Ms. Bigmon. A major goal is to find successful strategies that other programs can replicate, she added.

Most of the grantees will expand their programs by one or two classrooms to serve from 20 to 30 homeless children, but one will serve 65.

Besides adding homeless children, many programs will extend their hours, work with other agencies to provide full-day services, and increase their staff-child ratios, Ms. Bigmon said. Most also have developed ties with local homeless shelters.

Applicants for the grants also had to describe how they would meet the special health and mental-health needs of participants and "respond to the needs of homeless parents in areas such as housing, employment, parenting skills, and social supports.''

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