I arranged to meet Carmen Rodriguez at the Head Start Program way up in North Manhattan. It’s a early on Tuesday morning and leaving the subway at 8.30 am I decided to have a walk around the area, I’m not due till 9.30. I pass families and children running to work and school along the wide pathways being hosed down from the night before. Apart from the fruit and veg vendors organising their abundant deliveries most of the phone shops, hardware stores are still closed. Although it was still busy with traffic there was a sense of space. Looking up towards the distance of the road you can see Washington Heights residential flats and directly behind masses of sun-drenched trees hover over the higher ground. I realise we are on the same level as the Bronx with their steep hills. It still reminds me of the Valley Gardens in Scarborough.
This Head Start and Early Head Start program is situated along the more commercial street lined shops and looks like any other place of business. It is brightly painted and newly renovated to meet the needs of children and families whilst incorporating administration, teaching, research and service. The program has existed in this area since 1993. Originally led by a group of medical staff passionate about helping the community it served. They recognised that had it not been for them, families would not have been able to access important medical advice, they worried that a more universal service was needed, so decided to open the Columbia University Head Start led by Carmen Rodriguez, Phd, Assistant Clinical Professor of Population and Family Health. They knew they already had links with medical facilities, so the comprehensive service that Head Start provided could be streamlined to enable the families to access these services including opening it up to the wider community. Currently they have 26% of the Head Start staff members are also community members and 16% are former Head Start parents.
I spent some time talking to Carmen before having a look round. She explained the centre based and combined based which is Home Based and Centre Base offering for families.
The core Head Start service guidelines of school readiness, child development, family engagement are followed including baby massage!
There is a
6 hour day for centre based for Head Start.
4 combination models twice a week am and pm.
Carmen explained because they are part of medical research they’re always looking at new possibilities for training their staff which leads to collaborations with numerous neighbourhood groups and means extra funding. There are a couple of student nurses piloting a screening test with a group of families in the other room as we speak.
Carmen mentions the ‘good’ virus or the ‘ripple’ affect as she describes how the collaborative work is generated and begins to flow naturally.
I look around the building with her and see a group of mothers and babies taking part in baby massage. As an infant massage instructor this is wonderful to see. You can tell the mums have done this before; they confidently take their babies through the strokes, singing to them smiling, kissing their toes. One Mum is in the corner breastfeeding, one is laid down comforting her baby who isn’t interested, but no one is phased they are listening to their babies needs, led by two educators, without dolls just observing. I look into a Head Start room, there are a group of parents playing with their children engaging through the educator in a play group setting.
A group of centre based children are on the newly laid tarmac’d 2nd floor roof, one child doesn’t want to hold the edge of the parachute, but it’s okay he can go under it.
I then went down to the administration area where all the teams of social workers, family support worker, educators, special needs and disability staff are situated. There is a whole area for storage in play equipment too. Everyone has a desk, whilst most of the outreach workers are out for 2 full days a week doing Home Based visits, Carmen says it’s important for them to have a space to come back to. This is multiagency working at it’s best. Everyone working together for exactly the same families under one roof. Thanks to Carmen for showing me this other example of how the Head Start and Early Head Start model can successfully be transferred into a specialised working context