The city of Toledo will be part of a national pilot initiative that expands its local Head Start program to offer services for children from birth through the toddler stage, and their families.
The “birth-to-5” initiative announced Thursday for the area by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services also extends, by almost a month and a half, a deadline to apply for the $12 million federal grant to fund the program.
The pilot project, which began in February, encourages applicants to be innovative in their plans to deliver services to children from birth through kindergarten, while drawing in community organizations and individuals to offer services. The HHS grant previously only funded children at the Head Start level, which serves children ages 4 and 5.
“It’s where many of us think Head Start is headed and it automatically puts us in a position to look at expanded opportunities for children down the road,” said Keith Burwell, Toledo Community Foundation executive director.
The concept of a citywide, collaborative approach would let more children get the development tools they sorely need not only at the Head Start stage, but from birth on, said U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo).
“We need to try to get a more comprehensive approach to early learning in the Toledo area,” Miss Kaptur said. “We know too many children are falling through the cracks.”
To that end, Miss Kaptur invited national Head Start Director Yvette Sanchez Fuentes to meet earlier this month with a group of Toledo organizations that are discussing a joint application for the now-revamped federal grant.
The federally funded program was administered locally by the Economic Opportunity Planning Association of Greater Toledo for decades, but when the Department of Healthy and Human Services put the grant up for competition in 2011, neither EOPA’s application nor Toledo Public Schools’ was selected.
Those two organizations, among others, are now working on a joint effort to retain the grant. Community Development Institute, a Denver firm, took over the program in Lucas County on July 1 and will run Head Start until HHS selects a new grant winner in the newest funding competition.
The birth-to-5 initiative approved for Toledo is modeled after a pilot project launched in February by the Office of Head Start at HHS’ Administration for Children and Families in five communities: Detroit, Baltimore, Washington, Jersey City, N.J., and Sunflower County in Mississippi.
“This new pilot funding opportunity is designed to give grantees the freedom they need to best serve the families and children in their communities,” Ms. Sanchez Fuentes said in a statement when the project was launched.
The original application deadline of Oct. 21 has been extended to Dec. 2 as part of the funding overhaul.
Miss Kaptur said about 2,400 children are served by Head Start in Lucas County, a number she said is way too low when one recognizes that more than 6,000 children could be served by the funding from HHS.
“There is a huge learning gap,” she said. “We [Toledo] have all the pieces to do this, we just need to put them together in a different, robust way, and I think we are capable of doing that.”
Mr. Burwell said the collaborative process allows the group to align as a community and avoid the “shotgun approach” taken in the past. The group is working with a consulting firm on the application and has a daylong meeting scheduled Wednesday to work on the group’s birth-to-5 program.
“We are moving away from spraying and praying to being targeted and focused. We are starting with a white board and are trying to figure out how to design the best program in America. Period,” Mr. Burwell said.
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