The crisis around Flint’s contaminated water source exposes all community members to the toxic effects of lead. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and Michigan’s representatives in Congress have stepped up to address the urgency of protecting families with young children from birth to age five – an especially vulnerable population –  against this public health threat. HHS announced yesterday that $3.6 million in emergency funds were allotted to immediately expand Head Start and Early Head Start services in Flint to mitigate the effects of lead from the city’s contaminated water supply. Developing infants and young children are especially susceptible to the effects of lead; if exposure persists there can be serious, long term, consequences such as stunted brain development, anemia, hypertension, and immune system deficiencies. Access to intervention services through Head Start and Early Head Start, can mitigate the terrible effects of lead exposure.

Head Start and Early Head Start are federal programs that provide comprehensive services for children from low income families from birth through age five. In addition to high quality early education, Head Start and Early Head Start provide children access to health care and other family well-being services. Federal funds for Head Start and Early Head Start are awarded to local grantees; this federal to local relationship enables programs to be extremely reactive to the immediate needs of the families they serve. During this dire time for young children in Flint, the ability to be responsive helps eliminate barriers to providing aid.

Currently in Flint, 1,011 children receive Head Start services, and 166 children receive Early Head Start services, however it is estimated that significantly more children qualify for the programs. The one-time, emergency funding will increase access for children not already receiving Head Start services and also enhance existing services. In addition to opening 3 new classrooms, serving 51 additional children, the funds will also lengthen the school year by three weeks, provide Head Start comprehensive services to 78 preschoolers enrolled in the school’s special education program, and increase home-based Head Start services to accommodate 24 additional children. Along with increasing the intensity of health, behavioral health and nutrition services, the Head Start expansion in Flint will support parent and staff education on lead poisoning and toxic stress. Additional supports include an increase in WIC availability, transportation in order to access bottled water, assistance in making doctor’s appointments, and providing more home visits.

In February, Senators Peters and Stabenow of Michigan introduced the Children’s Head Start Intervention for Life and Development Act to the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee. The bill proposes a one-time, 5-year grant to carry out Head Start and Early Head Start services in communities affected by toxic pollutants, like lead, as is the case in this event, which the President has declared an emergency. Similarly, Representative Kildee of Michigan introduced the Families of Flint Act to the House, which also proposes the use of grants in order to provide Head start and Early Head Start services to children and families in the affected areas.