Learning Leader

Supporting Children and Families through Partnership and Collaboration

Each year, nearly 80,000 young children in Texas are served through Head Start and Early Head Start programs across the state. A national program that promotes school readiness by enhancing the social and cognitive development of children, Head Start provides educational, health, nutritional, social, and other services to enrolled children and families. Several of the Children’s Learning Institute’s state initiatives provide resources and services to Head Start programs, and CLI is also the home of the Texas Head Start State Collaboration Office (THSSCO).

More than 50 years ago, Head Start was founded as a program for low income preschoolers, and now serves pregnant women and children from birth through age five. Implemented locally through grantees and individual programs, Head Start programs are also supported at the state level by an office established to support and facilitate collaboration among Head Start programs and services in their local communities; in Texas, this office is the THSSCO, dedicated to impacting children and families by developing and sustaining partnerships at the state, regional, and local levels. Recent partnerships have allowed THSSCO to meet a critical need for Head Start families in rural areas of Texas, establishing ongoing relationships between families and dental health providers for preventative and primary oral health care.

Each year, THSSCO launches a statewide needs assessment survey to collect data from Texas Head Start grantees and programs in key Head Start activity areas, such as health care, children with disabilities and their families, professional development, and early childhood systems. For several years, the needs assessment identified a critical oral health care need among Head Start families in rural areas of the state. Although Head Start programs are required to assist each of their participating families in establishing an ongoing source of preventative and primary oral health care, known as a “dental home,” many remote, rural areas in Texas do not have regular dental providers. In some cases, families were having to travel over 100 miles to receive primary and preventative dental care.

Collaborating with statewide coalitions dedicated to oral health, THSSCO joined a broad group of stakeholders from state agencies and local organizations to meet the critical oral health need among Head Start families in rural areas of the state. Collaborating with these statewide partners, THSSCO was able to facilitate partnerships between local Head Start programs and dental clinics, including providing sample memorandums of understanding (MOUs), regular oral health updates, and invitations to free oral health trainings. As an outcome to these collaborations, Head Start programs in North Dallas, Corpus Christi, Texas City, Temple, and Abilene have successfully established partnerships with dental providers for their families, with more partnerships coming soon.

Access to regular oral health care for Head Start families was a recurring issue in Texas; through several years of partnership and collaboration, THSSCO was able to make an impact on this important health needs for families. The most recent statewide needs assessment, from 2015-16, no longer indicates a critical need for Head Start families to establish a dental home, indicating the positive impacts these collaborations are having for families across the state. Also, this important work has led to additional partnership opportunities for THSSCO and Texas’ Head Start programs through a new collaboration with the Oral Health Program, part of the Texas Department of State Health Services.

The Oral Health Program has been working for several years to impact oral health in our state; through partnerships with fellow organizations, this office contacted THSSCO to facilitate a partnership to deliver free resources to Head Start programs and families through a recent, three-year grant opportunity. Austin-area Early Head Start programs, serving pregnant women and children from birth to age three, will participate in a pilot of new oral health outreach materials, expanding to other areas of the state later.

THSSCO’s work supporting partnership and collaboration in early childhood extends far beyond the oral health partnerships highlighted in this month’s Learning Leader. For more information about the Texas Head Start State Collaboration Office, visit http://thssco.uth.tmc.edu.


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