The Head Start/PreK director notes that collaboration is a necessity when resources are limited, and that one of the most innovative aspects of their program is that they collaborate with all funding streams in the community. The School Board began to contract with child care centers because of lack of space for services in the schools, but they have always acknowledged the value of the child care community, and the child care community has been included in their training programs since the late 1970s.
The contractual agreement between the Alachua County School Board and Child Care Resources, Inc. requires the School Board to pay the child care agency a certain dollar amount per Head Start child, and to pay the costs of an additional teacher and supplies for classrooms with a concentration of Head Start children. Head Start also offers training for all teachers and family child care providers and is now assembling a parent-provider library that will be available at every child care center and family child care home. Child Care Resources is responsible for reimbursing individual child care centers and assuring that licensing and other contractual criteria are met. Head Start/PreK staff monitor the individual centers for compliance with Head Start standards.
The contract between Child Care Resources and the School Board has resulted in additional resources for child care in the community and has improved the morale of child care providers. These results are especially important in light of the fact that subsidized child care providers are faced with severe resource limitations and are very concerned about maintaining the quality and availability of care. (Because the reimbursements for subsidized child care lag by at least two months, cash flow is a serious problem for child care centers.) The longstanding relationship between Head Start and the child care community has matured through the implementation of full-day Head Start. The Head Start director works with the director of Child Care Resources to assure that every low-income 4-year-old is placed in a program.
The Head Start and Child Care Resources directors acknowledge that it took time to bring the quality of the contracted programs up to Head Start standards, and that Head Start rules seemed very restrictive at first. A certain amount of flexibility and sensitivity was needed by all parties involved. For example, the physical facilities at some day care centers impose limitations that are not faced by the grantee's school-based centers. Even with Head Start-provided materials and furnishings, some buildings just do not look as "cheery" or provide as much open space as others. In addition, some child care center directors were slow to adopt the Head Start philosophy in full. Lessons learned from this experience include the need to recognize and build on the strengths of existing staff and the need to provide specific information on Head Start standards and expectations in advance.
The directors agree that quality is consistently improving. Providers feel that Head Start has better program controls and better monitoring than child care. Head Start resources have enabled some centers to upgrade their program and, by "freeing- up" resources, to accept more younger children in their non-Head Start classes. The lead teachers paid by Head Start have improved the quality and atmosphere for all children in the center. In fact, directors and staff at several of the centers noted that Head Start involvement gives a positive feeling to all of their staff, because it emphasizes the important role of the teacher. Improved classroom materials also provide a boost to staff as well as children.