Guest blogger Linda Dunphy writes…

In last week’s Model Monday post I profiled the state level Early Head Start Partnership initiative in Kansas. Today (and yes, today is Wednesday), you’ll learn about one of these EHS 14 programs that got started in the first wave in 1998. Julie Leiker, the Program Coordinator from Heartland Programs shared what many of you want to keep learning about… how they do it.

Julie’s been proudly overseeing Heartland’s EHS partnership project since its beginning in 1998 – her enthusiasm for this model was abundant! Over the years she’s come to know the strengths and challenges of the partnership model.

A few program details…

Program Design

  • Heartland is one of the few programs in Kansas to dually partner with centers for Head Start going back to 1998.
  • Partners are both centers and family child care (FCC) providers.
  • 9 EHS classrooms at four centers serve 8 children in each classroom– some are a mix of non-EHS and EHS children.
  • 4 FCCs serve 4 EHS children. Each provider only enrolls 4 EHS children
  • All serve birth through age 3 (you may recall in the last blog post I shared that a Kansas initiative extends EHS up to age 4)
  • Parents are required to be in school or working for minimum of 30 hours a week to qualify for a full day slot. If they drop below this threshold, they are moved to a home based slot. When they resume 30 hours of work or school each week, they have the opportunity to move back to center or FCC slot, when it is available.

Partnership Logistics

  • Child care partners are contracted by Heartland. The centers are contracted so the teaching staff members remain employees of the centers. FCC providers are contracted as individual independent contractors.
  • Selection of partners is based on the minimum criteria of licensing and ITERS scores (for centers) in order to fulfill Heartland’s mission of raising the bar of quality for interested partners. When there are 5 EHS children in a classroom, the other 3 children reap the dividends of the quality.

Financial Issues

  • Heartland pays partners for the full day (10 hours) for a full year per slot – no subsidies are used. It would seem that this is related to the Kansas initiative and the state’s blending of funding streams.
  • Heartland pays centers $165/week per child and pays FCC providers $155/week per child. compared to the subsidy rate of $120/week –

Transition

  • About 50% of EHS children transition into Head Start often because many are making too much income to qualify when eligibility is re-determined. Those who do not qualify for HS have option to remain at the center (if in center).

So what’s working best for Heartland’s programs?

The relationship!

“Since the day one, it is the quality of the communication, support and relationship EHS cultivates with the teachers is paramount,” shares Julie.

Feeling supported!

At the heart of that support are the five EHS Early Educational Specialists who observe, coach, mentor and assess in the classrooms and FCC homes once a week. Julie notes, “Teachers love this part most of all. They have someone who can listen, trust and build upon their teaching instincts, as well as reduce the isolation (for FCC teachers).” Makes sense!

Then there are the Family Home Visitors who also frequent the classrooms, connecting parents and teachers, to harmonize and increase understanding in the two worlds – like what colors and letters is your child learning this week each week; or that Eric’s dad in the hospital this week.

Even the Program Coordinators (Julie and Ingrid) visit the providers several times a year and host a quarterly Center Director luncheon to ensure opportunities for networking and offering feedback. Every two months the same is done for FCC providers but over dinner. This particularly is beneficial for the latter group given how isolating the role can be.

Quality training!

Training is working smoothly as well! Needs are determined by teachers and directors completing a training needs survey yearly. Early Education Specialists also determine what training is needed based on their weekly observations and conversations with teachers and directors.

Encouraging education!

Heartland rewards staff for relevant educational pursuits. It uses a model from North Carolina that accesses local funding for teachers to defray the costs and time for pursuing their associate degree. This is welcomed by teachers. However, some teachers can only manage to take one class a semester (recall many work two jobs) taking then nearly 7 years to finish the degree.

Heartland offers teachers education incentive bonuses for various levels of achievement.

So what’s most challenging from Julie’s perch?

Hiring teachers with CDAs

“They are just not out in our community.” A CDA is an uncommon credential in their area. The time needed to obtain the CDA’s 120 classroom hours is complicated by staff working two jobs and having families of their own.

Turnover among Teachers

Julie cites the daunting 2,000 or so Head Start Performance Standards as one primary reason they lose teachers. The load of licensing regulations, training requirements and HSPS has overwhelmed even the most promising teachers. The very low pay rate also contributes to turnover. Many EHS/HS staff often qualify for program enrollment (meaning their annual salary is at or below the federal poverty rate) which is evidence of the need for increased salaries. By the time all the training and learning has taken root, which takes months, the staff often find higher paying and easier positions – often leaving child care altogether.

So why do the Partners stay with EHS?

Julie points out that they “believe in the mission” and that “EHS gives them additional resources – like the educational coaches, family and mental health services, dietician, nurse, and training” and “EHS pays a higher rate than private pay sector.” Enrollment is steady and full. The best part is that when the classrooms have mixed EHS and non EHS children ALL children benefit from the HSPS and the additional resources support the teachers and overall experience for all involved. Keep in mind, the only the classrooms where EHS children are enrolled are required to meet all the HSPS, not the entire Center.

Remember the blog post on the 4-C program in Orlando a few weeks ago? What was similar? The “relationships” were key criteria for both – sounds like a marriage? And in contrast, the payment for full day created more family stability for the Kansas program for sure. There are others…so perhaps take a read back over that post.

Thanks Julie and Heartland for sharing with the field your experiences and insights! No doubt this will be valuable for others considering partnerships.

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Whether your agency might apply to be an EHS-CC Partnership grantee or your child care program is a solid partnership candidate, there’s a lot to consider.  We can help analyze the opportunity, prepare a competitive grant proposal, or design and implement a high quality 18-month start-up plan.  If we can’t, we will connect you with the right resources to support your efforts.  Give us a call to discuss your situation: 703-599-4329 or augenblick@foundationsforfamilies.com

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