Head Start Advocates Seek $200 Million to Help Opioid-Affected Young Children

By Christina A. Samuels — July 10, 2018 1 min read
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Head Start providers are uniquely positioned to help the country’s most vulnerable children from birth to age 5, including those affected by the opioid crisis, say its supporters—and those advocates are looking for a $200 million grant from Congress to support that work.

Head Start, which serves about a million children and pregnant women, has already been working with children who have been born with a dependence on opioids as well as those suffering trauma and displacement because of opioid abuse among family members, advocates say.

For example, the SafeStart Program in Allentown, Pa., is a Early Head Start program for infants through 3-year-olds, all of whom were referred to the program because they were exposed to drugs or alcohol prenatally. The program, which provides services both to the children and their families, has been successful in keeping children in stable homes, and in keeping children on track developmentally. Of the women who became pregnant while their first child was enrolled in SafeStart, 88 percent have gone on to to bear full-term, drug-free second children.

In Butler County, Ohio, the local Head Start provider is a part of what is called the Therapeutic Interagency Preschool Program, or TIP model. The Head Start model maintains a ratio of one teacher to four children, and students are provided daily mental health supports. Also, families are connected with additional services.

Both programs are described more fully in the report, “A Head Start on Treating Our Nation’s Opioid Epidemic,” written by the National Head Start Association.

The $200 million grant program that NHSA is asking for would provide increased training, expand program capacity, and provide research on best practices for supporting opioid-affected children, NHSA said after the report’s release July 10.

“The funding would fully activate the potential of Head Start” and allow it to replicate and expand programs already shown to be successful in other parts of the country, said Yasmina Vinci, the executive director of NHSA. “Congress just needs to turn on the spigot.”

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Early Years blog.