Giving Families a Head Start

May 15th, 1994 | By | Category: 6-1: Media and Information, Tribal College News
By Paul Boyer

A model program at a North Dakota tribal college places chil­dren in Head Start while giving their parents a sec­ond chance.

The Comprehensive Child Development Center at Little Hoop Community College offers child care and health screening for infants, toddlers and young children.

Unlike most child devel­opment programs, however, it also offers a wide range of services to parents, includ­ing parenting classes, coun­seling services and career training.

The Little Hoop Community College pro­gram is a federally-funded demonstration project under the Head Start Bureau working to meet the needs of children by supporting whole families. It is one of 34 such centers around the country, although it is the only one serving Indian fam­ilies, according to Project Director Beverly Graywater.

Now in its fourth year, the program works with 45 Indian families living below the poverty line, helping them raise their children and gain self-sufficiency, says Graywater.

When the demonstra­tion project was started, only four adult participants from the original group of 66 were employed, reports Graywater. Today, 39 have jobs. Parents were encour­aged to take classes at the college, and many complet­ed GED training or voca­tional education programs. About ten went on to com­plete an associate’s degree.

“We’ve seen a lot of mir­acles,” she says.

The Comprehensive Child Development Center also offers parenting classes and health information. Substance abuse and men­tal health counseling is also provided.

Five case managers, each working with five to ten families, meet twice a month with parents to help them set goals and offer support.

Families are selected at random. Although they agree to remain in the pro­gram for five years, partici­pation is voluntary and some have been replaced.

As a demonstration pro­ject, the Little Hoop Community College pro­gram must adhere to strict federal guidelines and track the progress of partici­pants. “It’s unreal the data we have to collect,” says Graywater.

Parents are interviewed every three to four months by a professional ethnogra­pher about their progress and feelings about the pro­gram which, for the Little Hoop site, has been a posi­tive experience. Graywater says the interviews have confirmed the value of the program.

Although some centers have struggled, there is strong evidence of success among the 34 sites nation­wide. According to an inter­im report to Congress, data shows that participating par­ents have higher levels of employment, use less alco­hol and spend more time with their children. In turn, the children score higher on developmental tests and are more likely to receive pre­ventive health care.

Originally envisioned as a five-year project, Graywater says funding may be extended for as much as several more years.

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