Give Kids a Head Start to a Better Future
More and more, we’re learning how a family’s lifestyle, in all phases of a child’s development, affects what future social and educational problems may result.
Recent brain research has shown that a healthy, nurturing early environment is critically important for a child’s life-long mental and physical health. We know that infants understand much more than we ever thought in the past, and that children don’t just outgrow stress-related behavioral problems.
“If children come from homes where the mothers suffer from maternal depression and cannot form early attachment bonds with their children, those same kids will have behavior problems that can get them expelled from childcare or preschool,” explained Stacy Leakey, children’s treatment manager at Parent Child Center of Tulsa. “The earlier a problem is caught and changed, the less likely it will be to cause lifelong social and learning difficulties.
In 2002, the Early Head Start Research and Evaluation Project found that 48 percent of mothers reported enough depressive symptoms to be considered depressed at the time of their family’s enrollment in the program. Couple that with the increasing stresses and risk of violence in the home, and the situation worsens.
Zero to Three reports that a baby’s exposure to violence increases cortisol levels in the brain, increases activity in the brain involved in “flight or fight” response, and the brain interprets others’ actions as threatening and in need of an aggressive response.
While not all families have extreme stress and violence problems, it’s a very unusual family that doesn’t experience some level of stress. One stressor for many families is poverty. For the past decade, Community Action Project (CAP) has been one of Tulsa County’s top advocates for early childhood development with three levels of Head Start programs to help children from age infant to kindergarten who come from low-income families. CAP’s goal is to end intergenerational poverty by giving children a safe, nurturing environment in which to learn and grow.
“Our Early Childhood Education Program encompasses Head Start and Early Head Start services (both center-based and home-based),” explained JuLee Nelson. “Our program delivers a comprehensive high-quality school readiness curriculum addressing the educational, nutritional, health, social, and emotional needs of low-income children ages birth to five.”
But kids aren’t the only ones who benefit from the programs.
By teaming up with Family & Children’s Services, the child’s entire family can receive support services, and by working with the University of Oklahoma-Tulsa, CAP helps the families of enrolled children get access to health services. The programs also closely collaborate with the Tulsa Public Schools, Union Schools, and Sand Springs Public Schools.
CAP Early Head Start program addresses a child’s need to develop the emotional, cognitive, physical and social skills that support and promote lifelong learning.
With 16 early childhood education centers crisscrossing the city, every Tulsa family can likely find a nearby Head Start program. More than 1900 children from birth to age five are served, giving them a healthy head start on life.
Interested families are encouraged to enroll early because space is limited. Necessary documents for enrollment include: a birth certificate, proof of current address, proof of income (2008 tax return), current immunization record, and a Well Child Check Up.