Improving developmental outcomes and school readiness for young children involved with child welfare is a strong component of improving well-being, a priority in the child welfare field. To achieve this goal, the South County Regional Office of the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) and Long Beach Unified School District Head Start programs are using a 17-month Children's Bureau grant to increase referrals to and enrollment in early childhood education services for children involved with child welfare.
Infants and toddlers represent the largest segment of the nation's foster care population and are more likely than older children to experience recurrence of abuse and neglect. The Los Angeles Child Welfare-Early Education Partners Infrastructure project staff believe that children involved with child welfare that also attend an ECE program experience increased child safety through daily interactions with other child-serving professionals and increased communication between ECE staff and social workers. The project is focusing on expanding early childhood education enrollment through a partnership among Long Beach Unified School District-Head Start/Early Head Start (LBUSD-HS/EHS) programs, DCFS South County Regional Office, and the Center for Healthier Children, Families and Communities at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).
Project staff reported that although children in foster care are automatically eligible for HS/EHS, many DCFS social workers were unaware of the Head Start/EHS program. Additionally, they reported that social workers did not know about HS/EHS eligibility requirements, the benefits of ECE for children and families, available ECE resources in Long Beach, or the HS/EHS application and enrollment process.
Agency staff realized that in order to increase the number of children referred to and served by LBUSD-HS/EHS, as well as other ECE programs, agencies needed to:
- Reorganize program interactions
- Simplify the referral process
- Provide training for DCFS and ECE staff
- Inform parents, caregivers, and community partners about the benefits of ECE
Through the Children's Bureau grant, which ended on February 28, 2013, a computer-based referral system is helping the project achieve its goals. The electronic referral system now notifies DCFS workers of Head Start eligibility for children on their caseloads and allows them to easily refer children to the LBUSD-HS/EHS office. Prior to the grant, the referral system was limited to children ages 3â€“4. During the grant period, the electronic referral system was expanded to include children ages birthâ€“5. Twenty-three HS-EHS sites that are part of the LBUSD, and other ECEs in the community, also were added to the referral system infrastructure.
Partnerships with other quality ECE programs (e.g. center-based child care providers, preschools, community programs) have been developed to facilitate enrollment when EHS/HS spaces are not available. The project has also created curricula for DCFS social workers, parents, ECE providers, and juvenile dependency court personnel, among others. The curricula are aimed at developing participant understanding of how to navigate the ECE system in order to connect families and children involved with the child welfare system to developmentally appropriate ECE programs, barriers to enrollment, and the benefits of ECE programs for young children involved with child welfare.
Since 2011, the project has increased referrals to HS/EHS by almost 200 percent. It also has established a system for referring and linking children to quality ECE programs when space is not available through HS/EHS.
Reprinted from Children's Bureau Express, "Site Visit: LA Child Welfare/Early Education Partners Project" (http://cbexpress.acf.hhs.gov/).