In reviewing the information collected during the site visits, it was apparent that the grantees and directors participating in this study have more in common than the fact that their programs offer full-day services. These directors share a philosophy about the need for providing quality care to all children in their communities. Although each of the eight directors we visited runs a high-quality program, none view their mission as complete. Instead, they are continually striving to improve their programs and to provide care to a wider range of low-income children.
This philosophy of striving to provide quality services to low-income children includes participation in the broader child care and social services community. Forging alliances with other child care agencies as well as other social service providers is viewed as an integral part of directors' jobs. All directors are active participants in their community needs assessments and are on planning boards for activities related to service provision for low-income families.
Challenging and changing rules and regulations that stand in the way of improving services is also common practice for these directors. For instance, most of these directors have worked through the political process, both at the state and local level, to change reimbursement rate policies for child care. Likewise, many directors have worked with regional staff as well as other funding sources to simplify accounting requirements.
And finally, in the course of the site visit interviews, each director expressed concern about the lack of quality care for infants and toddlers. Five of the grantees were already serving some infants and toddlers and one had rented space in a center that provides care for these age groups.
Although infants and toddlers fall outside the purview of the traditional Head Start target population, the lack of care for these groups both directly and indirectly affects Head Start for two reasons. First, when siblings have to be placed in different care arrangements from one another, the logistics of getting the children where they need to be can stand in the way of parents successfully completing training programs or maintaining employment. All of the directors look forward to the introduction of the new Early Head Start initiative that will serve this group. Yet, at the same time, they stress the urgency of the need for infant and toddler care.
Second, the directors indicated that a growing number of children now being served by Head Start are from very troubled families. The number of homeless children as well as the number of children with drug- or alcohol-abusing parents has soared during the past 10 years. These situations, compounded by living with the threat of violence in many neighborhoods, have left children more vulnerable at a younger age. Several directors indicated that the sooner services (i.e., Head Start) are provided to these children, the better the chances are at improving outcomes. One director reported that by the time these vulnerable children qualify for Head Start, when they turn 3 years old, the level of services required is so high that these children become a drain on the system; it makes more sense both in terms of outcomes and costs to serve these children at a younger age. The directors look forward to Head Start's entry into this arena, yet at the same time feel that not enough is being done in the short-term.