Head Start Leaders Need Support to Respond to Opioid Epidemic

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The National Head Start Association (NHSA) called on Congress to create targeted grants to increase local Head Start program capacity to make a meaningful difference in the lives of young children impacted by the opioid epidemic.

“For decades, local Head Start programs have been at the forefront of countless challenges facing children and families, but the opioid epidemic is stretching them to capacity,” NHSA Executive Director Yasmina Vinci said. “As the voice of the Head Start community, NHSA is calling on Congress to fully activate the potential of Head Start as a force for change in treating this epidemic. Rather than continue to experiment with abstract ideas—or eat up precious time and resources launching new programs—Congress has the opportunity to invest in Head Start, a proven, comprehensive, and community-based intervention that would help stem the tide. Children caught in the turmoil of this epidemic need solutions now, and Head Start is a critical part of that solution.”

NHSA’s recommendations are outlined in a new policy paper, “A Head Start on Treating Our Nation’s Opioid Epidemic,” which was created in collaboration with more than a dozen Head Start practitioners from across the nation with experience treating children and families suffering from the opioid crisis.

The paper profiles two models—SafeStart in Allentown, PA, and the TIP Model in southwestern Ohio—where Head Start programs are using their limited existing resources in combination with partner funding to implement successful models specifically targeted toward opioid and substance misuse and related early childhood trauma.

In these programs and others around the country, Head Start teachers and staff are successfully reducing the effects of trauma on children through mental health consultations, individualized care, health screenings, and referrals. At the same time, these community-embedded programs connect families with mental health services, educational resources, employment, and economic opportunities—critical factors that can help those recovering from addiction change the trajectories of their lives.

However, most programs do not have adequate resources to address this enormous, growing need arriving at their doorsteps. NHSA’s policy paper builds the case for federal funding of a flexible approach based on community needs, using the infrastructure of existing Head Start programs to reach children and families. With targeted funding, the policy paper concludes, Head Start could help drug-affected children “catch up” to their peers while providing effective interventions for parents and families.

“Activating the potential of Head Start would alleviate suffering for tens of thousands of children, change the life trajectories for parents caught in the throes of the opioid epidemic, and save American taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars in long-term costs,” Vinci said. “The Head Start pipeline of treatment is already in place. Congress just needs to turn on the spigot.”

About NHSA

The National Head Start Association is committed to the belief that every child, regardless of circumstances at birth, has the ability to succeed in school and in life. The opportunities offered by Head Start lead to healthier, empowered children and families, and stronger, more vibrant communities. NHSA is the voice for more than 840,000 children and families from systemically underserved populations, 250,000 staff, and 1,600 Head Start grant recipients. ••• Media Contact: Emily Wagner, Director of Communications, media@nhsa.org

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