|Vol. 17, No. 13||Dec. 4, 1997|
Dan Rich, dean of the College of Human Resources, Education and Public Policy, with youngsters enrolled in the Wilmington Head Start program
The Northern Delaware Early Head Start Consortium has been awarded a $4,426,629 federal grant over the next five years to fund a comprehensive program for New Castle County's very youngest. Hundreds of children, their families and child care providers will benefit.
The program, headquartered at UD, will provide an umbrella approach to care as six New Castle County agencies combine efforts to improve the quality of life for children from birth to age 3 and their families, according to Daniel Rich, human resources, education and public policy, who announced the grant Nov. 24 in a news conference at the Wilmington Head Start facility.
Partners in the federal grant, awarded by the Department of Health and Human Services through the Administration of Children, Youth and Families, are
Its overall mission is to give families the support services they need to provide the best possible care for their very young children and for the family as a unit. At the same time, the project is dedicated to working collaboratively with agencies to provide the most effective, efficient and family-centered services possible.
Co-directors of the project are Martha Buell and Michael Gamel-McCormick, both individual and family studies. Buell is a specialist in early childhood education, and Gamel-McCormick conducts research with young children and individuals with disabilities.
"It's important to understand that the scope of the program is very far-reaching," Gamel-McCormick said. "It benefits everyone. The families, the communities, the school districts, child care providers, health and social service agencies will all feel the impact."
"We can provide quality child care, mental health, nutrition, medical and dental exams and screenings, job training for parents, substance abuse counseling, before- and after-school care, computer skills and prenatal care for pregnant teens," Buell said. "Our hope is to make theses families so successful that they will no longer be eligible for Early Head Start."
Priority will be given to those women and families most in need of employment, education, child development and other support services. Clients will be selected using income and other guidelines from a target area that includes the city of Wilmington, Claymont and communities along the Route 40 corridor. Additionally, at least 10 percent of the children served will have a recognized disability.
Initial referrals will come from a variety of social service and health related organizations. Services needed by individual families will be assessed by five home visitors employed by the program.
The grant process was competitive, Buell said, noting that when she hand-delivered the grant proposal to Washington, D.C., she found a room stacked from floor to ceiling with proposals from all over the country.
"One of the aspects of our proposal that I think helped us get the funding is our flexibility and our interest in using family (in-home) child care settings," Buell said.
"Because the money travels with the child, it is not mandatory that it be spent at a child care center. Many times the best option for very young children is a child care home where only three or four children are being cared for. It's sometimes good to have infants and toddlers in smaller groups where they can experience more bonding.
"Also," she said, "many times families need child care outside the standard child care center hours. Parents may work at night, may work a third shift. In-home child care may be the answer."
In the past, Buell said, it has sometimes been difficult for in-home child care providers to care for children from families who pay with Purchase of Care dollars. (Purchase of Care is a program that provides federal funds, channeled through a state agency, for supplemental child care expenses.)
"Even taking that money, in-home child care providers in New Castle County lose money," she said. By supplementing that money with Early Head Start resources, Buell and others say they hope that will change.
Additionally, the grant has a component to help the in-home child care providers themselves.
"In-home child care can be a very isolating profession," Buell explained. "Being at home caring for children all day leaves little time to make professional connections. We hope to be able to change that with some increased training and a mentoring program for in-home care providers."
The program's administrative structure also is unique.
"It is a program run by and for the people of the community," Buell said, explaining that the grant will be administered, in part, by a Policy Council, 51 percent of which will be made up of individuals who are enrolled in the various aspects of the program.
"These are the people who are really in touch with the community and are able to see the needs firsthand. They are the ones who can say, 'We need more child care here,' or 'We need a medical van there,'" Buell explained.
The other 49 percent of the Policy Council will be community partners- agency representatives, social workers, local pediatricians and others.
The Policy Council will work alongside a governing board of UD officials to make recommendations for services to the six grant partners.
Additionally, there will be various opportunities for UD students to work in the program. But, it's the possibilities the grant presents for improving the quality of life that are most exciting, Buell said.
"Recent brain research has shown that the first three years of life are a critical time in child development, and child care is such an important component of that development. A recent White House conference called attention to the fact that there is a critical need for quality child care for infants and toddlers across the nation. It's exciting to be able to take some first steps locally toward meeting that national agenda."
Children and Families First provides a broad spectrum of programs aimed at strengthening families.
The Delaware Association of Child Care Professionals Inc. is run by family child care providers who are dedicated to improving.
The Easter Seal Society of Del-Mar Inc. is a comprehensive agency that provides therapeutic services, support groups and programs to encourage independence for people with disabilities and their families.
New Castle County Head Start Inc. and Wilmington Head Start Inc. are nonprofit organizations dedicated to providing comprehensive developmental services for preschool children.
The UD Center for Disabilities Studies focuses its efforts on improving the quality, quantity and range of public and private services.
For information on the Early Head Start Program, contact Buell or Gamel-McCormick at 831-0584.
Photo by Duane Perry