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Head Start Program Serves Needs of Migrant Worker Families

We often write about the struggles that families can face in finding affordable quality child care in their communities. But just imagine how difficult that must be for migrant farm workers, who must regularly uproot their families according to growing seasons across the country.

For these families, it's not easy to find child care every time they relocate to a new community. While families often leave their children in the care of other family members, some parents have "no choice but to take their children to the fields where they are exposed to pesticides, hazardous equipment, extreme heat and other health dangers," according to The National Migrant and Seasonal Head Start Association.

Since 1969, Migrant and Seasonal Head Start programs have served children of these migrant workers; in 1999, programs started serving the kids of seasonal workers, as well, according to the association. Serving more than 35,000 kids each year, these programs operate in 40 states, providing services for between two and 10 months each year. The programs are open to kids from birth to age 5, but 75 percent of participants are 3 and younger.

According to the association, the programs are "interdisciplinary, full day, individualized, multi-cultural, and utilize appropriate developmental practices. Children, whose native language is other than English, are encouraged to build upon their native language while English is gradually introduced."

And the programs are designed to meet the needs of these families, whose length of residence in a given community depends on crop cycles. A new program in Winnebago, Minn., for example, opened in June and will close at the end of September, according to a news report.

Cally Ingebritson, family and community services specialist for the Winnebago program, told the Fairmont Sentinel that the program recognizes that children of migrant workers face more challenges than other kids.

"Socialization is a big thing when the kids had no preschool," she told the newspaper. "It's a challenge just because the population we serve is so mobile. These children haven't had any services in the past few years. Having them in a safe center, learning and happy, is a better option."



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