By Corey Mitchell
Cross-posted from District Dossier
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services will spend $3.6 million in emergency funds to expand Head Start and Early Head Start services for young children affected by the lead water crisis in Flint, Mich.
Starting this month, the additional federal funding will open three Head Start classrooms, offer more services to children in the special education program, provide transportation for families who need for medical visits, and add more parent education activities and staff training relevant to lead poisoning.
Hundreds, if not thousands, of children in the city have high levels of lead in their blood, in part because of the state’s decision to switch Flint’s water supply. Research indicates that children are more vulnerable to the effects of lead poisoning because they are still growing and developing.
“Early education is one of the most important things we can do to help children overcome the effects of lead,” said Dr. Nicole Lurie, HHS assistant secretary for preparedness and response.
Flint schools Superintendent Bilal Tawwab told Congress last month that the district needed help securing resources for early-intervention programs to support children suffering from the effects of lead exposure.
HHS staff recently dispatched to Flint are working directly with agencies that provide Head Start and Early Head Start services to about 1,200 children in the city. Another children in the city are on wait lists for services.
The water-supply source for Flint was changed from Lake Huron to the Flint River in April 2014 while the city was under the control of a state-appointed emergency manager. The city switched back to the Lake Huron system last year, but only after the water leached lead for months, causing elevated levels of the toxin in drinking water.
Several members of Michigan’s congressional delegation wrote to the federal agency in January, urging an expansion of Head Start in Flint.
Republican Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder and former Flint Emergency Manager Darnell Earley will testify before Congress on March 15 about their knowledge of the Flint water crisis. Earley recently left his job as emergency manager of the Detroit public schools, amid criticism and complaints from district parents and staff.
Photo: Registered Nurse Brian Jones draws a blood sample from Grayling Stefek, 5, at the Eisenhower Elementary School on Jan. 26. The students were being tested for lead after the metal was found in the city’s drinking water—Carlos Osorio/AP
A version of this news article first appeared in the Early Years blog.