Early childhood advocates discuss hurdles to health care, education access

Discussion about early childcare turned to talk of the barriers working families face in seeking and attaining it during an information-gathering session Friday at the Stillwater Public Library. The United Community Action Program (United CAP) Head Start hosted a community conversation in conjunction with the Oklahoma Partnership for School Readiness (OSPR), the recipient of a $3 million Preschool Development Grant Birth Through Five (known as OKFutures) from the Office of Child Care, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The community conversation was formatted around a data walk, where facilitators presented data to participants to use as a springboard for conversation. Major discussion points included state and county early childhood care, education, support services and health.

Of all the concerns brought up in the discussion, the major concern affecting Payne County is the ability for working families to be able to work and have proper child care. Sandy Major, the Director for the Child Development Lab for OSU, is shared some of these concerns.

“The need for child care for working families (needs to be addressed)," Major said. “Making it affordable for families to be able to engage in educational opportunities and to go out and seek employment in their field and be able to be confident and secure in where they’re putting their child.”

Kim Rice, the Head Start Director for United CAP Head Start, said families that are just above the poverty line are also suffering, but don’t have access to certain services because of their level of income.

“I heard concerns for the families that weren’t quite in the low income area that gets the services,” Rice said. “Those people seem to be the ones who have needs as well but don’t have any resources to go to. I know Head Start has gone from just the 100 percent income poverty level to adding it up to 130 percent, but I feel like that’s probably something we need to start looking at as far as even raising that higher because there are people who are meeting that poverty level who are very much struggling but even those just above that are struggling.”

Dahrenda Shaw, United CAP Family and Community Engagement Coordinator and Prenatal Coordinator, said it is “striking” to see a lot of people do not know about the services that are provided in this area.

“I’m curious to see moving forward about what we can do about bridging that gap between people's knowledge of the services and actually obtaining the services,” Shaw said.

Head Start is a federally funding birth to 5-year-old program comprised of Early Head Start, which serves pregnant mothers through the time the child is 3, and Head Start, which serves 3- to 5-year-olds.

Paula Brown, the Disabilities Services Manager UCAP Head Start Program, said the whole premise of Head Start is to work with families to help bring them out of poverty.

“Head Start began in the 1960s primarily to address these issues that we see,” Brown said. “To help address poverty through working with not only the child but the family as well, helping families if they didn’t graduate from high school helping them get their GED, if they’re needing housing or food to get them hooked up with services.”

The Prenatal program specifically offers benefits for parents enrolled in that program, as their children are guaranteed a spot in the Early Head Start program, Shaw said.

“Our prenatal program works with low income families, doing prenatal education while they are pregnant,” Shaw said. “So we cover topics like substance abuse protection, breast feeding, fetal development and postpartum depression.”

Other concerns brought up at the community were the need for more collaboration between OSU and Stillwater, more high-quality child care centers in the wake of Super Kids and Chapmans closing, public transportation that goes to low-income areas of the city and more partnerships with tribal systems.

Head Start helps families find the resources they need to get by, but not enough families may know about the Head Start programs in our community.

“I also believe there are families in need that aren’t aware that Head Start is there,” Rice said. “They need to know that we are here and we serve children birth to 5-years-old and that we have quality services for them.”

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