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Head Start expansion announced for Flint children

Katrease Stafford Tribune News Service

DETROIT – The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced Wednesday $3.6 million in emergency funds to expand Head Start and Early Head Start services for preschoolers who’ve been affected by Flint’s lead contaminated water supply.

The funding – a one-time grant – will immediately expand the services to children by providing additional classrooms, home visiting support and transportation for families who need to visit the doctor, Dr. Nicole Lurie, HHS Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response, said Wednesday during a conference call. On Jan. 16, President Barack Obama designated the HHS as the lead federal agency in Flint, and Lurie oversees the efforts. Since then, about 100 experts and incident management staff have been deployed in the city to determine what the residents need.

“We’ve seen significant progress and have been able to meet a majority of the State of Michigan’s request for assistance,” Lurie said, adding that the Head Start announcement is an example of mitigating the effect of the crisis.

HHS’s Office of Head Start is working directly with the three agencies that currently provide Head Start and Early Head Start services to 1,011 Head Start children and 166 Early Head Start children in Flint. According to HHS, there is a wait list of around 800 children.

Specifically, the funding will be used to open three additional classrooms serving 51 children beginning March 2016 through June 2017 for children in most affected areas. Lurie said it will also lengthen the current school year by three weeks, bringing the total duration to 36 weeks and provide Head Start comprehensive services to 78 preschoolers enrolled in the school’s special education program. An additional 24 additional children will also be enrolled in the home-based model, Lurie said.

The funding, according to Lurie, will also be used to enhance services by increasing parent education activities and staff training relevant to lead poisoning and toxic stress.

Just last month, Michigan members of Congress announced they would be introducing bills to expand learning programs for Flint children affected by the crisis. U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., announced the legislation, called the Children’s Head Start Intervention for Life and Development Act, or CHILD, while touring Hurley Medical Center in Flint.

CHILD would allow for a five-year grant to help low-income children with health needs and school readiness as part of the Head Start and Early Head Start programs. Those efforts include child learning classes, healthy meals and developmental screenings.

Peters has said the grant would total $50 million a year for the next five years and planned to introduce the bill with U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich. U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee, whose district includes Flint, was also slated to introduce similar legislation in Congress.

The water-supply source for Flint was changed from Lake Huron to the Flint River in April 2014 while the city was under the control of a state-appointed emergency manager. Last year, the city switched back to the Lake Huron system after the corrosive river water leached lead and caused elevated levels of the toxin in drinking water.

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