The Early Head Start Program in Morrisville, Vermont, is a small but very important part of the community. “Head Start and Early Head Start are national child development programs which provide comprehensive development services for low-income children and social services for their families.” (Vermont Head Start Association, n.d.) The Early Head Start Program serves pregnant women and children to the age of three. Once children turn three they can be enrolled in the Head Start Program, which provides support services for children ages 3 to 5. In Vermont there are four Early Head Start Programs. The program focus is to promote physical, cognitive, social, and emotional development of infants and toddlers while offering support to the parents. Early Head Start also helps the communities provide resources to families that need support.
(Photo from http://www.capstonevt.org/head-start/head-start)
Families can benefit a great deal from the Early Head Start Program. I myself used the Early Head Start Program when I was pregnant with my second child. I was in a tough situation and also had a four-year-old son. We were living in a domestic shelter at the end of my pregnancy, and I was under a great deal of stress. One of the first support services recommended to me was the Early Head Start Program. I was reluctant initially but decided it couldn’t hurt to have some extra support. My support provider was above and beyond what I expected. “Mary” was so caring and helpful right from our first meeting. I began seeing her when I was 34 weeks pregnant and scared out of my mind. She was great about just listening to me and offering any help I might need. We met once and sometimes twice a week for a couple of hours. She helped me to feel more prepared for having another child and even helped get things I still needed for the baby.
The following video explains what the Early Head Start Program offers families:
(“Heinz,” 2013, February 27)
When evaluated, children who were in the Early Head Start Program did much better in many categories than those who were not.
A national evaluation conducted by Mathematica Policy Research, Inc., and Columbia University’s Center for Children and Families, in collaboration with the Early Head Start Research Consortium found that 3-year-old Early Head Start Children performed significantly better on a range of measures of cognitive, language, and social-emotional development than a randomly assigned control group.” (US Department of Health & Human Services, 2014)
Jean Piaget (1896 – 1980) was a Swiss theorist who studied how children develop. Piaget’s theories are closely connected to the goals of the Early Head Start Program. Jean Piaget came up with four stages of intellectual development. The first stage Piaget called sensorimotor, which is from birth to about age two. “The infant’s sucking and shaking of various objects are examples of early ways of learning about things in his [or her] environment through physical manipulation and sensory exploration.” (Henninger, 2013, p. 99) The second stage is pre-operational, which includes children from age two to seven. During this stage children begin to use symbolic thinking and play. The Early Head Start Program and Head Start Program follow guidelines to be sure infants and children are meeting their milestones and are doing what is expected of children at their age. Piaget’s stages of intellectual development give a good idea as to what a child at each stage should be capable of doing.
I interviewed “Sue” at the Early Head Start office in Morrisville, Vermont. Sue told me that the Morrisville office is offering support services to 40 families at this time. She explained that there are two purposes for the home visits: to ensure proper child development and to help parents learn what their child should be doing at each age. She emphasized the importance of teaching parents about child development. “A child’s development is affected by the parents the most.” (“Sue,” personal communication, November 20, 2014) When I asked what the biggest challenge was in this program, Sue said that it’s difficult to get parents to focus on the child’s needs with so many other demands in their lives. The other big obstacle for a lot of families is transportation. She said that many families do not have a vehicle, which makes it difficult for them to get to family outings or get to other support services.
In my own case, after my daughter was born “Mary” and I resumed our visits. My daughter was three weeks old and I was breast feeding and having some struggles. Mary got me connected with a lactation consultant who was a huge help. Each week Mary and I would meet. She’d ask me questions about my daughter and do some evaluating of her. With the support from the Early Head Start Program I felt I was becoming a better parent to my children. In a study done on parents who used Early Head Start compared to parents who did not, “Early Head Start parents were rated as more supportive than were control parents responding to the child’s bids for attention, encouraging learning during play, and showing positive regard toward the child.” (Love et al., 2005)
Our visits also focused on getting my daughter rolling over, having more tummy time, reaching for objects, and just making sure she was hitting her milestones. Once I got out of the shelter and into my own apartment, Mary came to my home and continued a few more visits. Mary knew I was doing everything right as a mother, and when scheduling became a struggle after I started working, we discussed if I wanted to continue further home visits. She knew that the biggest struggle for me had been living at the shelter with one young child and another on the way, while looking for work, but now that was all behind me. My infant daughter was exactly where she needed to be developmentally, and I now had confidence in myself to know I could do it on my own. The Early Head Start Program supported me and my children through a tough time and helped me to feel confident as a mother.
Here’s how other parents talked about their experience with Early Head Start:
(Fields, 2012, September 10)
Fields, S. [Sabrny]. (2012, September 10). Denise Louie Early Head Start [Video file]. Retrieved from http://youtu.be/PCvXzpoXqxA
Henninger, M. (2013). Teaching young children: An introduction. (5th edition). Aupper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc.
Love et al. (2005). The effectiveness of Early Head Start for 3-year-old children and their parents: Lessons for policy and programs. Developmental Psychology, 41 (6), 885-901. doi: 10.1037/0012-1618.104.22.1685
The Heinz Endowment. (2013, February 27). Early Head Start. [Video file]. Retrieved from http://youtu.be/-OQm1o4ze-w
US Department of Health & Human Services. (2014, September 30). About Early Head Start. Retrieved from https://eclkc.ohs.acf.hhs.gov/hslc/tta-system/ehsnrc/about-ehs
Vermont Head Start Association. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.vermontheadstart.org/
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APA cite in text as: (Flora, 2015)
APA cite in full References as: Flora, M. (2015). Early Head Start supports Vermont children and families. Vermont Psychology. Retrieved from http://wp.me/p4elXk-kZ
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Malisha Flora: I’m a single mother to two wonderful children. My son is five and my daughter is one. The last year I have been working at a daycare and furthering my education in Child Development. My goal is to work in a family crisis center one-on-one with families and children. I’m so passionate about serving families in crisis because I have been there myself and I understand the importance of this line of work.