White House Recognizes Head Start as Leader in Treating Effects of Opioid Epidemic

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Representatives of the Head Start community attended the bill signing ceremony today for bipartisan legislation to treat those affected by the opioid epidemic. The SUPPORT for Patients and Communities Act (H.R. 6) did not contain all of the recommendations the NHSA-led Opioid Working Group recommended in its policy paper released in July. Nonetheless, Head Start leaders are still hailing the legislation as a strong first step in expanding the role of the holistic family and child development program to effectively respond to a scourge that has affected more Americans than any previous substance use disorder.

“The SUPPORT for Patients and Communities legislation is a strong first step, but Congress and the administration must do more to activate the full potential of Head Start to stem the tide of this life-destroying epidemic,” NHSA Executive Director Yasmina Vinci said. “Head Start is a force of change for more than a million children and families a year, in communities in every corner of the nation. Each day, more than 1,600 locally-driven programs use innovative, community-tailored approaches to address countless challenges facing our most vulnerable Americans, and the opioid epidemic is no different. Programs like the one run by Butler County Educational Service Center in southwestern Ohio partner with parents and other caregivers to provide support and improve conditions for children, beginning at birth and continuing until kindergarten. Children are the unnoticed victims of this epidemic and Head Start is the kind of comprehensive, whole-family approach that is needed to break the stranglehold of opioid addiction, and it is already working in thousands of communities across the country.”

Representing the Head Start community at the signing ceremony today were NHSA Board Chair Damon Carson of the Neighborhood House Association in San Diego and Suzanne Prescott, Director of the Butler County Educational Service Center in Hamilton, OH. They shared with the President, First Lady, and other attendees NHSA’s commitment to expand training to all 245,792 staff in over 21,000 centers nationwide to address the far-reaching impacts of parent substance-use disorder on young children and families.

The SUPPORT for Patients and Communities Act is based on a bipartisan Senate bill sponsored by the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander and Ranking Member Patty Murray.

Chairman Alexander said, “This is the most important new health care law this year and one of the ways it deals with the nation’s worst public health epidemic is by providing early intervention to vulnerable children who have experienced trauma. The bill will support the important work of organizations like Head Start which are identifying, preventing, and mitigating the effects of trauma on infants, children, youth, and their families. Addressing the reasons that children turn to opioids or other illicit drugs is important to stopping the cycle of drug abuse, and will help end our nation’s opioid crisis.”

Ranking Member Murray said, “Our response to the opioid epidemic must not only address its root causes, but also its ripple effects on children, family members, and communities struggling with the trauma of this crisis. Programs like Head Start play an important role in making sure children and families heal, grow, and succeed together, and I’m glad our bipartisan bill provides more resources to expand mental health services and provide support for trauma-informed practices to help all children and their families thrive.”

The SUPPORT for Patients and Communities Act includes several provisions that engage Head Start, such as including the Office of Head Start on an inter-agency administration task force that will develop best practices and coordinate the federal response to the opioid crisis. The bill also includes a grant program to improve trauma support services and mental health care for children and youth in educational settings, and recommends Head Start as a partner (or sub-grantee) for the eligible state and local education agency grantees. The bill also suggests including Head Start in state plans of safe care, which are collaborative effort of child welfare and treatment systems to provide safety-net systems to stabilize substance-affected infants and their families.

Most Head Start programs do not have adequate resources to address the enormous, growing need arriving at their doorsteps. NHSA’s policy paper, “A Head Start on Treating Our Nation’s Opioid Epidemic,” 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 additional targeted funding, Head Start would be poised to have an immediate impact for substance-affected children, creating opportunities for them to catch up with their peers developmentally, while providing effective interventions for parents and families.

About NHSA

The National Head Start Association is a not-for-profit organization 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 nearly 1 million children, 270,000 staff and 1,600 Head Start and Early Head Start grantees in the United States. ••• Media Contact: media@nhsa.org

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