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Federal budget cuts to the agency that runs Head Start preschool programs throughout New London County have forced elimination of a home-based education program for children who needed extra assistance to prepare them for school.
Deborah Monahan, executive director of the Thames Valley Council for Community Action, which runs the Head Start program, said the program lost $190,000 in the automatic federal spending cuts known as sequestration.
To absorb the cut, TVCCA eliminated the home-based program in which staff members visited 60 families of children aged 3 to 5 years old identified as needing direct one-on-one educational support before they entered a traditional classroom.
The program served children with special needs, developmental difficulties or socialization issues. Their families received additional support with issues ranging from education, job assistance, health insurance and service referrals, Monahan said.
Six staff members who specialized in early childhood development and family services lost their jobs with the cut, Monahan said.
"We have had this program for close to 40 years," she said. "This was devastating in terms of the program."
Monahan expects the program elimination, approved by the Head Start Policy Committee and the TVCCA Board of Directors, will be permanent. Cuts could become deeper if the annual federal sequestration brings about more cuts next year, she said.
Some of the children served by the home-based program will be able to attend Head Start classes this fall in one of TVCCA's Head Start centers located in Norwich, Griswold, New London, Groton, Stonington and Waterford, taking slots made available by children advancing to kindergarten in local schools. But no new Head Start slots will be created in those centers. TVCCA serves about 460 preschool students at the Head Start centers, which are "always full," Monahan said.
"Now, there will be 60 (fewer) families we can serve," Monahan said.
U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, said the loss of Head Start money to the region will have long-term effects as experts tout the benefits of early childhood education. He said many people are unaware of the far-reaching effects of the sequestration cuts beyond the well-publicized cuts to military funding.
"It's sickening," Courtney said. "The value of Head Start in terms of getting kids school-ready is beyond dispute and the long-term damage of a cut like that is going to be felt for a long time."
Monahan is doubtful that her agency could find funding from other sources to replace the lost federal money, especially with possible future cuts pending.
Beverly Goulet, Norwich director of Human Services and an executive committee member along with Monahan of the New London County's Children's First/School Readiness Council, called the sequestration cuts "very frustrating." Goulet said the council and its partner agencies always try to identify various grant sources, no matter how small, to assist with early childhood programs. But finding larger sums of money is difficult.
"We can't seem to put the money where it's needed," she said of the government cuts. "As a former Head Start director, I know it's an invaluable program. Many of these kids need that assistance as younger kids - the younger the better. It's really a significant loss."