Rina Hurley was able to turn her life around with the assistance of the federal- and state-funded program Head Start — but that program recently underwent sharp budget cuts due to the federal sequester.
Hurley suffered from substance abuse and lost custody of her 14-year-old son and 2-year-old daughter for a year, but she got them back after she underwent rehabilitation in Auburn and at Community Recovery Resources.
Now she has remarried, is seven months pregnant and plans to get a job once her baby is born, which Head Start will assist with. Hurley also signed up for the infant service, which offers information and assistance for mothers.
The help that Head Start provides to mothers like Hurley has been canceled for 48 Nevada County families, as $375,000 was eliminated from the budget of local Head Start provider KidzKount, which also had to lay off 12 employees, said KidzKount Executive Director Denyse Cardoza.
According to federal data cited by the Associated Press, Head Start programs across the country eliminated services for 57,000 children in the coming school year to balance budgets diminished by the federal sequester.
“We’ve made every effort to keep those programs open,” Cardoza said. “If a site didn’t have anyone on the waiting list, at that moment is where we did our cuts.”
Any family that meets eligibility requirements can enroll in the program at the center, regardless of where they live in the county, with the amount of space determined by the funds that Head Start has available, said Nevada County Superintendent of Schools Holly Hermansen.
School districts pay KidzKount their state preschool funds, and KidzKount provides the services. These services include early education, health care and promotion of parent-child interactions with comprehensive pre-natal support and parent education to pregnant mothers, health services to children and families from pre-birth to age 5 and social services support to families.
“We’re not just focusing on school readiness or the academics of children,” Cardoza said. “We’re looking at the family and the community they live in.”
The organization also addresses health and hunger, Cardoza said, adding, “We even grow our own gardens to ensure we have food coming in, so it’s a big loss when we lose that many slots.”
Mariana Worden has seen the impact Head Start has had on families and children from the nine years she taught preschool with Head Start.
“It gets the kids in a schedule, a routine where they have really good food that gets delivered every day and allows parents to work; otherwise, they might not be able to,” she said.
“For single parents, it’s a great thing.”
Worden has witnessed the long waiting lists of interested parents.
“There was a lady who came in the other day who had a desperate need to get her child in and didn’t make it,” she said.
“She said she needed it for going back to work, and she’s a single mom. She’s just going to have an increased hard time.”
Worden pointed to Hurley’s son as an example of how beneficial Head Start can be.
“He went through preschool, and he’s a straight-A student now,” she said, adding that her own daughter has been enrolled just four weeks and already has learned a lot.
“She can count to seven now, and she knows colors and learns to share her toys,” Hurley said.
“It gives her that socialization. Hopefully, she’ll be there for two years. It helps me a lot.”
Without the program, Hurley said, she would either have to opt not to return to work after she gives birth or pay for pricey day care.
Head Start has allowed her to provide a stable environment for her children and get back on her feet, she said.
“I have a lot of build up of guilt of not taking care of them and doing other things and not being there for them,” she said.
“I’ve had my ups and downs, and they’ve helped me out big time.”
Cardoza sits on the National Head Start Association board, is president of the Region 9 association and hopes to address the effects the reduction of Head Start will have on children “who are most vulnerable in this country,” she said.
“It is the middle class that carries this country, and those children are going to be paying for our Social Security someday,” she said.
“If we haven’t trained them, they simply cannot support the system. They cannot even buy the houses we will sell when we retire. Start looking at when you retire — who will be there to carry this nation on? If we don’t invest in those children, not only Head Start, but our kids in college, it won’t matter how much money there is.”
To contact Staff Writer Jennifer Terman, email email@example.com or call 530-477-4230.