Head Start provides children from low-income households a multitude of opportunities they would not likely get otherwise. I am writing in support of L.D. 1682, “An Act to Preserve Head Start and Child Care Services,” sponsored by Rep. Aaron Frey, D-Bangor. It proposes a formula based allocation of $2 million to Maine’s 11 nontribal Head Start programs for 2014-15, replacing cuts made in 2012-13.
Included in the passage of the bill is the opportunity of $3 million in federal funds to assist low-income families with the cost of child care. Financial support of the Child Care Development Fund would allow the state of Maine to maximize child care development block grants to provide vouchers for low-income parents in school or in the workforce.
“Head Start improves school readiness, increases educational achievement, improves child health, reduces the chance a child will turn to crime and improves parenting practices,” says Frey. Head Start programming provides guidance and mentoring for parents in the development of their skills and confidence in their use, and establishes a foundation for ongoing success in the achievement of healthy children and families.
According to the Children’s Defense Fund 2013, “There are 2.75 million more children living in poverty today than in 2007, with children being the poorest age group in our country. Large corporations are experiencing record high profits, and the wealthiest Americans’ net worth has increased, however, our children living in poverty have had little to no relief.”
The U.S. Census Bureau from 2012 indicates that 25 percent of children younger than 5 were poor, with research indicating these early years are the most crucial of their brain development. Additionally, children growing up poor are less likely to succeed in school, less likely to grow up healthy and more likely to be poor as adults.
Education is the key component to eliminating poverty, with Head Start programming as part of the solution. Early education and instilling the love of learning is the first and best chance for today’s impoverished children to break free from the chains of generational poverty into which they were born.
The cost of raising children is growing faster than parents’ abilities to pay, placing more of our youth in poverty. “Households today have about the same incomes as they did in 1982-1983,” according to economist Charles Colgan of the University of Southern Maine’s Muskie School.
“The state is requiring parents to work, and there is a significant gap in their ability to pay for child care. This bill would help fund that gap and keep parents working,” Rep. Walter Kumiega, D-Deer Isle, testified at the public hearing on Jan. 30
Research shows that parents who enroll their children in Head Start are better able to find and maintain employment.
As a social worker, I have witnessed the benefits Head Start provides, helping the children grow socially, physically, mentally and emotionally. Parents are recognized as their child’s first and most influential teachers. Head Start programming supports and empowers these historically oppressed, low-income parents through the formative years of their children’s development.
Head Start programs build relationships with families by supporting and promoting family well-being, positive parent-child relationships, families as learners and educators and community connectedness and encourages advocacy and leadership. Head Start also provides Early Head Start services for pregnant women, infants, toddlers and their families with incomes below the federal poverty level.
Research shows Head Start children have fewer discipline problems, higher high school graduation rates and earn more college degrees than their peers who don’t attend Head Start. It is imperative to take a proactive approach through the prevention efforts that Head Start offers to help end the pattern of generational poverty plaguing our nation.
On Tuesday, the bill received strong support from the Senate, but it faces additional votes in the Senate and House. I encourage others to contact their local legislators in support of L.D. 1682. Maine’s most vulnerable families need us to advocate for this money to be put where it matters the most, the future of our children.
Gwen M. Ackley, of Swanville, is a licensed social worker and a graduate student at the University of Maine at Orono.