News

Low-income parents get virtual support

CVHS PROGRAM DIRECTOR PAUL BEHRMAN

MIDDLEBURY — Champlain Valley Head Start (CVHS) has for years offered free early education programs for low-income families with children ages birth to 5-years-old. It’s been able to do that largely through childcare centers and home visits, where Head Start staff impart knowledge about preparing kids for school; overall health care, including prenatal, infant and toddler care; and accessing services for children with special needs.
But when the COVID-19 pandemic took root last March, childcare centers suspended operations. Group and home visits — especially with expectant moms and young children — were taken off the table, for health reasons.
Thus CVHS, like many other agencies affected by coronavirus, had to figure out a safer way to deliver services to the families and children who need them. 
And thanks to creativity and technology, Head Start has been able to re-start its programming in a manner that maintains quality while keeping staff, families and children at a safe distance. The nonprofit recently rolled out a new home visiting program through which CVHS staff can check in weekly with clients through the computer screen.
“Obviously, with COVID, things have changed. The way the service looks this year will be substantially different than how it looks in a typical year,” CVHS program Director Paul Behrman said last week. “The approach for this year is that almost all of our home visiting services will be remote, with very limited exceptions.”
Each month, CVHS staff drops program materials — such as health, safety, nutritional and educational literature — at clients’ homes. Then participating families will tap into weekly virtual (Zoom) home visits to help children and families put into practice what’s advocated in the program materials.
Champlain Valley Head Start currently serves close to 300 low-income families in communities throughout Addison, Chittenden, Franklin and Grand Isle counties. Per federal requirements, the program recruits, enrolls and serves the most vulnerable, at-risk children and families in the region. CVHS also works with a variety of organizations throughout northwest Vermont, and statewide, to provide additional supports to children and families.
Tammy Lathrop, an Addison County parent, has used Head Start to build a solid foundation for the majority of her six children. Her 2-year-old twins, Raelyn and Faeryn, are now receiving virtual visits and supplies from CVHS.
While she believes in-person is better, Lathrop is pleased with the way Head Start staff have been making learning fun for the twins.
“They’ve actually stayed focused a lot longer than I thought they could,” she said.
Video conferencing has allowed parents to become involved, which Lathrop appreciates.
And if she needs any info that CVHS staffers don’t have during a videoconference, Lathrop knows they’ll be able to track it down quickly and get back to her.
Head Start staff is still making socially distanced, masked outdoor visits to homes on rare occasions, notably if a family’s stability and wellness are deemed to be in danger.
“We’re trying to keep everybody safe,” Behrman said.
And if that means additional investment, that’s what Head Start will do, according to Behrman. The agency is now seeking to acquire computer tablets with data plans for families unable to afford internet connections.
“This is a time to make sure families have the connectivity they need,” Behrman said.
There are still Head Start slots available in Addison County. To be eligible, one must be an expectant mother or have a child younger than 5, and be able to document participation in at least one of the following: a recipient of Reach Up and/or Supplemental Security Income (SSI), have a foster child, or be homeless.
Those who don’t fit into any of the aforementioned criteria may still qualify by having a household income within 100% of the federal poverty level. That’s $26,200 for a family of four.
Families may apply online at champlainvalleyheadstart.org/apply-now, or inquire via phone or email at 802-752-9397 and [email protected]
John Flowers is at [email protected].

Share this story:

More News
News

How are we handling the opioid overdose crisis? Local discussion

Three local professionals will discuss their experiences navigating the opioid crisis Mond … (read more)

News

Middlebury man killed in Weybridge crash

David K. Ricklefs, 53, lost control of the Subaru Impreza he was driving on Morgan Horse F … (read more)

News

Documentary puts Vermont food insecurity center stage

A Middlebury filmmaker’s new film charts the evolution and impacts of the wildly successfu … (read more)

Share this story: