Local Head Start centers struggle to find income-eligible families

Wage increases putting some parents in a tight spot

JOPLIN, Mo. – “This has never been an issue before. We’ve never had a struggle finding income-eligible families to serve…It is unprecedented. It is unusual for us to see this happening, and it’s a challenge that we’re really trying to figure out what to do and how to handle it,” said Amy Schmidt, Enrollment Coordinator for Head Start.

Early Head Start and Head Start facilities across the country are experiencing all-time high waitlists. In this area, 267 families are currently over-income. That means for a family of four, they’re making more than $26,500 per year. That’s a problem for parents like Tasha Lewis.

“I’m over income, so he will still be on the waiting list, but if lower income families enroll, then they will go in front of him,” she explained.

This is a problem Schmidt is seeing again and again.

HHS Poverty Guidelines for 2021

KOAM NEWS/ASPE

“We have families who qualified for early head start for their child from birth to three-years-old. When that child turns three, they’re eligible to transition to Head Start. But, at that time, we have to re-verify their income. What we find is…we have had quite a few families who then did not qualify,” she explained.

Wage increases are pushing many families into this situation, but inflation isn’t helping. Even with her raise and working a second job, Lewis is struggling to come up with a plan B for child care.

“A lot of places are full right now, or there’s a lot of sickness going around. So, we’ve found one lady, but she wants $150 a week, which I know doesn’t seem like a lot to some people, but $150 a week is a lot to us,” said Lewis.

While she waits, Lewis is trying to decide if she should continue working, or quit her job to stay home with her child. Schmidt is afraid more families will succumb to the latter, missing out on valuable time in the classroom.

Tasha Lewis & Son

Goodman mom debates between job and child care as she sits on Head Start’s waitlist.

KOAM

“We know that the early brain development and social emotional development that happens within that first five years, it only happens once for that child…and so missing those opportunities, you know, it’s not something we want to see happening in our community. We want to see services received by families,” said Schmidt.

Schmidt says that up to 10% of families who are over income on the waitlist can be accepted into the program, but, in this area, that only means 55 slots. The majority of those seats have been filled making the wait lists all the more competitive.

The National Head Start Association is advocating for income requirements to shift to allow more families to meet the threshold for eligibility.

There are openings at all Head Start sites in the area.

How to apply for Head Start:

Call (417) 781-0352 or visit any site location to learn more.

You can also visit this website.