Proposed additional funding for Early Head Start could affect Columbia centers

Wednesday, January 30, 2013 | 6:43 p.m. CST; updated 6:37 p.m. CST, Thursday, January 31, 2013

*CLARIFICATION: An earlier version of this article included information about the number of state-funded child care spots provided through Central Missouri Community Action. Including federal funding, 194 prenatal women, infants and toddlers are served by the program.

COLUMBIA — Gov. Jay Nixon's proposal to give more money to the Early Head Start program is a wonderful first step to restoring its funding, said Melissa Chambers, director of Early Head Start operations for Central Missouri Community Action.

"There are definitely long-term benefits, and I'm thrilled to see the governor recognized that and it was reflected on his budget," Chambers said.

For the 2014 fiscal year, Early Head Start programs in mid-Missouri might receive more funding to help additional impoverished prenatal women, infants and toddlers with growth and development.

 Nixon proposed to put an additional $17 million toward early childhood education in his State of the State address Monday night.

"Early childhood education is a smart investment with a big return," Nixon said.

Of that $17 million, he proposed putting $3.5 million toward Early Head Start, making the state program's total budget $6.2 million

Last year, lawmakers reduced state funding for Early Head Start from $5.67 million to $2.65 million, cutting the program's budget nearly in half. Early Head Start also gets federal funding.

The decrease in funding affected the services and number of people served by Central Missouri Community Action, a nonprofit organization that works to eliminate poverty. The group works with Early Head Start serving families and partnering with child-care centers in eight mid-Missouri counties. Five centers are in Columbia.

*Through Central Missouri Community Action, Early Head Start serves 194 prenatal women, infants and toddlers in mid-Missouri through both state and federal funding. Cuts in last year's state budget reduced the number of state-funded spots provided through community action from 40 to 14, leaving 26 children who had been served without child care.

"It was devastating," Chambers said. "We lost 26 slots, so we had 26 children given less than 30 days' notice they no longer had care." 

The group uses some of the state money it gets for Early Head Start to fund participation in the program and in-home visitations and to assist child-care partners, Early Childhood Programs Director Mernell King said.

More people apply than the program can serve, Chambers said. More than 100 applicants are on its waiting list, and Chambers said she knows others are eligible for Early Head Start services but have not applied. 

"The need is very great," Chambers said. "There are not lots of opportunities — quality toddler care is needed in the area." 

After being released from the program, some families became upset because they had to quickly find alternative care, and relationships formed with staff members were severed, Chambers said. 

Families remaining in the program experienced a different service delivery model, Chambers said. Families used to be visited once a month to examine progress and family goals but now are visited twice a year. 

Central Missouri Community Action revised its budget to maintain the quality of the services it provided, Chambers said. 

"The services we provided (after the budget cut) were still quality services," she said. 

Supervising editor is Elizabeth Brixey.

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