A PUBLICATION OF THE CHILDREN'S LEARNING INSTITUTE
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Collaborations Create Mental Health Supports for Texas Head Start Students and Staff

May is national Mental Health Awareness month, an observance that has increased in value over the current school year. School leaders, teachers, families, and students have been under added pressure from the many strains and stresses impacting our mental health. This month, the Children’s Learning Institute is highlighting an important partnership developed by the Texas Head Start State Collaboration Office (THSSCO) to positively impact the mental wellness of staff and children in Head Start programs across Texas this school year.

Head Start is a national program that promotes school readiness by enhancing the social and cognitive development of children through the provision of educational, health, nutritional, social, and other services to enrolled children and families. More than 79,000 Texas children, from pre-natal care to age 5, are served by Head Start and Early Head Start programs. Housed at CLI, THSSCO is one of the Children’s Learning Institute’s state initiatives, programs that deliver services and resources to early childhood programs and families across the state, and often at no cost.

THSSCO plays an important role in helping our state make progress in improving the lives of young children and their families, working with state agencies and other partners to leverage common interests towards shared goals. With offices established in every state, these collaboration offices exist to facilitate collaboration among Head Start agencies, and entities that carry out activities designed to benefit low income children from birth to school entry, and their families. THSSCO assists with relevant state initiatives and brings the support and perspective of Head Start to the development of a comprehensive early childhood system in Texas, working in collaboration and partnership with other agencies.

 Happy children in Head Start program classroom

Like schools and child care centers across the state, Head Start programs were directly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. While some programs were forced to close during quarantine periods, most programs faced challenges delivering virtual instruction, especially for programs in more rural areas without technology and internet access, and navigating health and safety requirements, guidelines, and concerns for children and staff. In collaboration with the national Office of Head Start and other national organizations to continue supporting Head Start programs and participating families during the COVID-19 pandemic, THSSCO engaged in conversations related to a rise in opioid abuse, substance mis-use, domestic violence, mental health, and social/emotional concerns among staff, children and their families in programs across states, territories and tribal programs.

For our state, THSSCO identified an opportunity to address one of the required initiatives for Preparing and Planning to Address the Opioid Crisis and Substance Use Disorders: Creating a Path Forward to Support Head Start Children, Families, and Staff at the Program and State Levels, added as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and the increase in mental health concerns. Through shared contacts, THSSCO connected with the Texas Opioid Response Network (ORN) to discuss opportunities to meet the needs of Head Start and Early Head Start programs in our state through staff support and trainings. ORN graciously partnered with the THSSCO to support the initiative, and conducted monthly staff trainings in January, March, April, May, and concluding in June 2021. This partnership will continue as THSSCO addresses this initiative across the state.

In addition to the ORN trainings, THSSCO researched resources related to mental health and social emotional development for children. Through our ongoing partnership with Lakeshore Learning Materials, THSSCO discussed the Office of Head Start initiative and opportunities to provide materials to Head Start programs by leveraging funds reserved for travel (unable to be used due to COVID-19 travel restrictions) to address the needs of children. From these discussions, new Mental Wellness Kits that could be used virtually or face-to-face were developed. Delivered in January 2021, the kits include a set of materials to support mental health and social emotional development:

  • A set of faces with emotions
  • Playdough
  • Conversation starters
  • Dealing with Feelings (book set)
  • My Feelings Journal
  • Colored pencils
  • Instruction guides and usage information

Each Head Start program in Texas received mental wellness kits, designed to be shared among their classrooms. Program administrators have shared that the Head Start staff and children love the kits, the materials were user-friendly and flexible to use, and helpful to engage parents to participate. Our partner Lakeshore also shared that they received requests to order additional kits from administrators across the state. THSSCO’s strong partnerships enabled these resources to be available when they are most needed by early childhood teachers and the children they care for and educate.

THSSCO shared our successes with engaging programs through the Mental Wellness Kits with surrounding states. Arkansas and Oklahoma requested specific information so they could partner with education vendors to produce similar materials for their states.

As our state continues its recovery from COVID-19, THSSCO’s work continues in supporting Head Start programs, staff, and families. Our next initiatives will enhance resources for family engagement with a special emphasis on emotional support, self-care and awareness, self-regulation, motivation, and discipline.

Learn more about the Texas Head Start State Collaboration Office at https://texashssco.org.

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