The High/Scope Cognitively Oriented Curriculum is followed in both the home-based and half-day center models. Once children who receive full-day services are bused to off-site child care providers, however, Head Start loses control over the kind of service provided. Most contract programs provide unstructured "babysitting" services. For instance, when asked about her program activities, an in-home provider mentioned only that she plays games with the children and takes them on trips to the park and to the local mall. One center visited (which the Head Start director acknowledged was her "star" contractor) does offer an enriched early learning program for the children, under which staff develop weekly learning "themes." However, even this program is much less structured than Head Start; the center director noted that "Head Start is like school, but this is like home." Because Head Start children generally arrive at child care during naptime (at approximately 1:30 p.m.), they spend the first hour in quiet activities or rest. Some, but not all, centers provide an afternoon snack.
The quality of contracted child care raises concern for the NRCA Head Start director. On the one hand, she feels children need a more unstructured, home-like setting, after a morning spent in a center-based Head Start program.21 On the other hand, she feels children would benefit more from a consistent environment, staff, and rules than can be provided by a "connected care" program. In addition, she worries that many of the off-site providers under contract — particularly some of the center-based ones — do not provide high quality care. Not only do some of the programs lack structured activities, she feels they are overcrowded and staffed by poorly trained caretakers. She feels such places provide particularly poor service for children with special needs. In addition, she has had calls from some Head Start parents complaining that their Head Start children are treated poorly in comparison with the non-Head Start children served by these programs.
In some communities — especially extremely rural ones, the director said she feels fortunate to have access to any providers at all. The first provider Floyd County has ever had opened its doors this summer, and Giles County opened its first center only in the last five years. In other communities, high quality child care providers are available at a cost per slot that the CCDBG grant does not allow. Many of those programs have expressed an interest in serving Head Start children to improve the ethnic and socioeconomic mix of their own child population, but they are unable to do so at CCDBG reimbursement rates.