Monday, Nov. 6th 2017

New focus on parent’s employment needs helps improve Head Start families’ success

 

 

By Alecia Jackson, M.Ed.
Director Early Education Division, Assistant Director Human Services Department, Maricopa County

 

I have long believed that an important power of the Head Start program is the dual focus on children and families—helping both children and their parents be successful. And part of that pathway for parents is a fulltime job with a livable wage.

However, as an administrator of a Head Start program here in Arizona’s Maricopa County, I faced head-on a stunning limitation: Trying to go beyond our grant’s mandates to help parents deal with multi-faceted employment issues on their journey to economic security. Time after time I have witnessed:

  • A parent stuck in a low-paying job because they lack the skills and abilities to qualify for a better paying job.
  • A parent stuck in a dead-end job because they lack knowledge about career pathways in high demand fields.
  • A parent stuck in unemployment because they can’t afford care for their children for the full working day

Year-after-year observing these unmet needs has been frustrating. All over the United States, in fact, people doing my kind of work face these same kind of problem. Fortunately, this profound need for a wrap-around, two-generational approach to supporting under-privileged families has been realized by philanthropic organizations such as the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and the Aspen Institute Ascend Fund. They are helping community programs jump out of their silos and work on problems in a multi-disciplinary fashion.

Through a $1.5 million grant to agencies nationwide, the Kellogg Foundation is advancing new pathways to employment for parents and families with young children while providing linkages between early childhood development and employment that will lead to economic advancement.

Meanwhile, the Ascend Fund in Colorado is helping promote best practices for a specific type of two-generation approach—one that intention­ally links adult education, job training, workforce development and postsecondary education for low-income parents with early childhood education for their children. This approach empha­sizes long-term investments to build human capital for both children and adults.

In Maricopa County, we are using an intentional co-case management of families engaged in the Human Services Divisions of Head Start, Workforce Development and Community Services. This integrated model is helping to wrap supportive services around parents with young children who have identified barriers to employment. It works this way:

  • A shared vision and approach to family assessment helps Head Start family service workers ask deeper questions about parent’s need for employment, interests in vocational and job training, and potential barriers to obtaining or up-scaling employment.
  • A career guidance specialist in the Workforce Development Division now asks job seekers additional questions about their need for child care, assessing existing child care arrangements for quality and reliability and helping parent identify possible concerns about their child’s development and education and the safety of their family environment.
  • Case workers within the Community Services Division have new approaches to assessing families in crisis and better able to understand the stability needed for families before referring to Workforce Development programs.
  • Regular meetings between family services specialists, community services case workers and career guidance specialists are helping to breakdown silos, increase the understanding of one another’s work, and learning more about program services and systems that enable coordinated approaches on shared goals for clients enrolled in multiple department services.

This emphasis on integration has resulted in an increase of Head Start parents engaged in employment training and led to the Head Start program to redesign and expand year-round Head Start services and child care partnerships that meet the needs of working parents.

For single mother Arianna, this coordinated approach has resulted in her 16-month-old child being enrolled in an Early Head Start Child Care Partnership program receiving up to 10 hours of quality care each day. Meanwhile, this frees Arianna to work part-time as a home health aide and become trained as a certified nurse assistant with financial help from Workforce Development funding.

“The staff at Head Start and Workforce have been so supportive and are working together to help me,” Arianna said. “I didn’t think I could ever reach my dream of becoming a registered nurse, but now I have help to overcome some big challenges…and set goals to make a better life for myself and my daughter.”

With pilot programs such as Maricopa County’s and with philanthropic organizations such as the Kellogg Foundation and the Ascend Fund backstopping this two-generational focus, exciting new opportunities are opening for Head Start to create more successful families like Arianna’s and raise them into the middle-class.


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The Vision

All children, regardless of their circumstance at birth, deserve a full and prosperous life.


The Mission

  • Support high-impact Head Start programs for children and adults by creating opportunities for collaboration, networking and information sharing.
  • Unite with state and national Head Start organizations to ensure regulatory and budget outcomes that support our work.
  • Champion the message that every child and family who succeeds makes their community a better place.

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