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Mel Gravely

The Other Public Health Emergency: Head Start and the Opioid Crisis

While the nation is continuing to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, let’s not forget about another crisis that our communities continue to fight every day: Opioids. Head Start Agencies across the country have been able to provide another branch of support for families affected by the opioid crisis, and continue to provide resources despite the intense pressures of the current environment.

In some parts of the country shelter-in-place orders led to a growing number of relapses. During a 15-week period from mid-March to June, GA Today reported that parts of Georgia saw a 61.4% increase in fentanyl overdose deaths compared to the previous 15 weeks. Now more than ever, collaborations between Head Start and other local agencies are needed in providing the most effective support for families.

“I think we have realized that this is an issue that no individual agency can deal with alone,” says Berta Velilla, Director of Early Learning Programs at Child Focus, Inc Head Start in Cincinnati, during her interview for Introduction to Head Start and the Opioid Crisis. The Head Start approach of providing a network of care creates stability for children and support for families in recovery, as they aim to be a resource for families to guide them to the appropriate community services. 

More and more is being discovered about the impact trauma and toxic stress cause on a child’s brain and social-emotional growth, due to physical or emotional abuse, chronic neglect, and caregiver substance abuse or mental illness. 

Robin Gersten, a Mental Health Manager at Self Help, Inc Head Start in Massachusetts, states in her video interview for Head Start and the Opioid Crisis: Creating a Network of Care, “We’re seeing a lot more children removed from the home. We’re seeing children that are raised by grandparents, or aunts and uncles.” 

If a child is experiencing consistent and prolonged levels of stress, they most likely won’t be able to fully benefit from everything the Head Start program offers within the whole child philosophy

So we can take the following from the playbook of Jamihla Miller, Early Head Start Advocate at Maternity Care Coalition:

“When I have a challenge, I don’t keep it to myself. I always share it with others. So, I use a lot of support, and we just sit and we just have a moment of, ‘What can we do? How can we help? How can we move forward? How can we overcome this obstacle?’”

Using your support system and asking these questions is how we can best face this crisis and the influence it’s having on the children and parents in our programs. 

Is your program having discussions about how to help families that are dealing with effects of the opioid crisis? Does your program have a successful plan in place that you could share with others to improve how we can all handle this crisis together?

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