Early Head Start Program Helps Families Succeed
Starfish Family Services is Strengthening Families
February 14, 2019
When it comes to success, the earlier you get started at it, the more likely you are to attain it. Starfish Family Services, established in 1963, appears to embrace that idea. The organization's mission statement says "Strengthening families to create brighter futures for children." Indeed, if planning for a brighter future is the goal, there's no time like now to begin.
Starfish Family Services began offering the federal pre-school program Head Start in Inkster in 1997, providing educational opportunities for 3 and 4-year-olds. In 2003, the program was expanded to include pregnant mothers and children less than 3 years as Early Head Start. Early Head Start operates as both a center-based program and a home-based program, in which dedicated and trained staff conduct weekly visits to the homes of family clients. Center-based Early Head Start takes place in the classroom, runs a full day beginning at 8:30 a.m., operates Monday through Friday, and requires families to provide their own transportation. In home-based Early Head Start, the classroom comes to you.
Laura McDougall Litfin is an Early Head Start Home Visitor with Starfish Family Services. She says that for some families with a stay-at-home parent, lack of transportation, or who are new to the country or the area, home-based Early Head Start is an excellent option for parents wanting to give their young children an educational jump-start. "The luxury is, we come to your house," says McDougall. "We bring materials with us. We have a curriculum called 'Growing Great Kids.' We work with the family as a whole." Visits from Home Visiting Educators are once weekly and last 90 minutes.
For pregnant mothers, Early Head Start's Home –Based program allows expectant mothers to receive prenatal education, family support services, social and emotional support, developmental and health screenings, and assistance with finding other available resources in the community. Additionally, pregnant mothers receive home visits bi-weekly, which are 60 minutes each, until the baby arrives. For the final visit before the baby is due, a Head Start Nurse will join the Visiting Educator to help with the welcoming and transition of a new family member.
Additional perks for families include an agency-held baby shower for the mother-to-be, and two social events each month, such as a visit to a local museum, library, or park. Such social occasions allow parents and children to interact with others, and parents are able to build supportive friendships with other home-based families. Outings are free of cost to registered families.
Early Head Start Home-Based families also benefit from screening days facilitated by Starfish Family Services and provided by partnering agencies. Medical and dental screenings are available for children, as well as referrals for testing for learning disorders. Mental health support for adults is made available as well.
Litfin stresses that Early Head Start and Head Start are not daycare programs. Registration is required and the program is free, but income-based. The purpose of Home-Based Early Head Start is to work with the family and show parents their potential. "Parents are the first teacher, and really, we're there just to support you," she adds.
Litfin has been with Starfish Family Services for 11 years and says the program, while it helps young children with early development, enables the parents find personal growth and enrichment, as well. Many parents, she says, go on to further their education, seek out volunteer opportunities in their community, or turn around and give back to the agency which has done so much for them. Some parents are instructors at Starfish University, a free learning experience for parents which builds knowledge, confidence, and life skills. "It's what carries on afterwards," says Litfin. "It's what you do to give back if you feel really strongly about something." Litfin finds it very rewarding when parents improve themselves and families attain goals, even small ones. "The small things sometimes are the biggest things, in a way," she says.
The Early Head Start Home-Based Program is offered year-round. Enrollment is required. For more information, see the Starfish Family Services website at http://www.starfishfamilyservices.org or call 1-888-887-9980.