New requirements cut majority of families from USD 489 Parents as Teachers

Changes in the way the Hays USD 489 Parents as Teachers program is funded will result in a majority of the families previously served to be cut from the program.

The change is a result of an 8-percent cut to the Children’s Initiative Fund for fiscal year 2017, said Donna Hudson-Hamilton, director of early childhood development for USD 489.

The 18-month grant was reduced by approximately $60,000, she said.hdn-06-29-16-pg-a01

“This grant is actually a combined grant with several different early childhood programs within our community,” she said. “It’s had an impact across all the different programs.”

Among those are programs that help preschool children on a waiting list for Head Start, as well as Healthy Start and early childhood screenings. Other grants will help with those programs, but Parents as Teachers will see the most drastic change.

The program has been open to all families in the Hays school district since its inception in 1989. Money has come from the state Children’s Initiatives Fund, established by the Legislature in 1999 to distribute payments from the Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement that resulted from lawsuits against the country’s largest tobacco companies.

But starting Friday, the program will be funded by the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, which means families must meet federal criteria to participate. The CIF money was swept into the state’s general fund.

“It has been quite devastating to our program and to the families,” said Joan Dunn, coordinator for USD 489 Early Childhood Connections.

“We’ve had universal access, so you could have any type of job, any type of degree, any income,” Dunn said.

“Parenting knowledge is not necessarily related to your education or your income.”

The program provides parents with children up to age 3 with home visits from trained parent educators who focus on child development. Playgroups and socialization, as well as sharing parenting information, also is part of the program.

Now, in order to qualify for the program, families will have to meet at least one of 19 criteria, such as a child or parent with disabilities, children in foster care, those with low birth weight, a death in the immediate family or substance abuse in the family. The program will help families whose incomes are within 200 percent of the poverty level. Families must qualify every year.

“Consequently, we are exiting probably 60 (percent) to 75 percent of the families that we currently serve that do not meet those factors,” she said.

The program, along with Early Head Start, has helped approximately 300 children annually in the area, according to reports from USD 489.

Early Head Start is already federally funded and helps families who meet certain criteria, including those who are within 130 percent of the poverty level.

Dunn is concerned about the effect the changes could have on early detection of developmental delays.

The program has provided a developmental screening for children within the first 90 days of enrollment, Dunn said, “but now before we can even enroll a child, we would have to know that information.

“Parents as Teachers is one of the programs that has been so beneficial in locating children with delays and then giving them early intervention and having those things corrected before they get to school, which is big savings down the road,” she said.

The administrative effort of the new criteria are also a burden, she said.

“A lot of these risk factors, they have to have documentation on doctor’s or professional letterhead. We can’t take a parent report. That will involve a whole lot of extra effort to identify families that are eligible,” she said.

Even just the extra time needed to explain the new process to families is adding to the workload.

Administrative costs — such as utilities, copying and telephones — are not covered by TANF. Dunn said required matching cash funds can be used to cover those costs, but that is also money that could be used to help families who don’t meet the federal guidelines.

Moving a staff person to another position did prevent any layoffs, she said.

“I am thankful that the program is still in existence,” Dunn said. “It’s been on the chopping block over the last several years. We’re going to keep fighting for it. We know the benefits.”

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