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Mel Gravely

Head Start and COVID-19: What you need to know

The current issue of COVID-19 has raised a lot of questions, including the discussion of how it is affecting our schools. More than just classrooms and hallways, for some families school is a haven for their children. Now with the closure of many schools and programs across the country, its left families with the challenge of not just keeping their kids safe at home, but how to properly educate them too.

Here’s what we know so far about Head Start’s policies at the national level, as well as what we should be doing to keep families engaged through this trying time.

Head Start at the National Level

First, the Office of Head Start has allowed for grantees to continue to pay their staff while their schools are closed.

In recognition of the unique circumstances associated with COVID-19, OHS is directing programs to continue to pay wages and provide benefits for staff unable to report to work during center closures necessary to address COVID-19.

This additional emergency response flexibility is important to ensure critical grants management activities can continue during closures. It will help ensure staff are ready and able to return to work as soon as it is possible to resume operations. This flexibility remains in effect through April 30, 2020 unless further extended by OHS.

OHS Coronavirus Prevention and Responsive Announcement

Second, Congress’s response to the pandemic that passed last week, also known as the CARES Act, includes additional funding for services that are often needed by Head Start families, including SNAP benefits, housing support, and health benefits.

Head Start not only provides direct services, such as education and meals for children, but they also act as a community liaison, connecting families with services such as housing assistance. The additional funds provided by the federal government will really help in bridging the gap and making sure families don’t fall through the cracks during this uncertain time.

Meals and Nutrition

OHS writes that Head Start programs can continue to provide meals for families while they’re closed. Certain requirements have been waived in order to allow them to do this. See the OHS announcement here.

Family Engagement

With kids at home and social distancing rules set throughout the country, parents and caregivers may find themselves unable to work without childcare, or they may have lost their job entirely. We need to do what we can so that families won’t feel like they’re alone. Be sure that you are communicating with your families regularly (daily!)

For example, connect them with information on how to file for unemployment, and give them accurate information on things such as handwashing and social distancing. Don’t leave them to fend for themselves in the wild west of Facebook “news”, where inaccurate (and sometimes dangerous) information has become rampant.

At-Home Activities

When communicating with parents and caregivers, make sure to assign them “homework” that they can do with their children, one of the most important of which is reading with their child. Highlights magazine has some good ideas. We also sometimes post ideas for activities on our blog and Facebook page.

Training Staff

And last but not least, don’t forget about your staff. Engage them regularly with video calls, emails, and texts.

Also, this is a prime opportunity for staff to learn new skills via online training. The Gravely Group is offering several online training opportunities in April and May, including a series of webinars, as well as two-day online workshop on Program Governance.

This is a very uncertain and stressful time for everyone, so let’s all make a commitment to be kind and understanding to each other. I firmly believe that the best way through this, is if we do it together.

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