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How You Can Help Children and Families in Flint, MI

Head Start as the Necessary Intervention

You have no doubt heard about the discovery of lead in the drinking water in Flint, Michigan. You may also have read news accounts that document similar - or worse - lead problems in many other towns and cities. Some are describing the situation as a national public health emergency that threatens the health of an entire generation.

Why am I telling you this? Well, Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, who discovered the problem in Flint, and other Flint community leaders, right away suggested Head Start/Early Head Start as the necessary intervention for all the youngest children affected. The recommendation is well-grounded in the fundamental elements of the Head Start model, and I believe it can and should be scaled.

I am writing to tell you how, and to inform you about our efforts to be effective in Flint, and to ask for your help.

Head Start's model of providing comprehensive services is well-suited for responding to this crisis. Head Start provides a local infrastructure for effectively delivering a range of services - Health, Nutrition, Education, and Family Engagement. I should emphasize the local component - Head Start is organized to meet unique local needs and is locally staffed. This brings a level of trust, the importance of which cannot be overemphasized.

And Head Start and Early Head Start programs in Flint are serving children and families with the same and deepened passion. They are providing bottled water, filters, and baby wipes.  Every day they are,

  • partnering with mental health professionals to ensure that families fully understand how developmental delays caused by lead exposure present and how families can best support affected children; 
  • identifying pregnant mothers to ensure they are not exposed prenatally to lead;
  • creating educational resources to inform families and communities about healthy water and tips for avoiding lead exposure;
  • tracking lead testing so programs are best prepared to support exposed children and their families; and
  • enabling nutritionists to help guide families on the added importance of calcium and vitamin rich foods when exposed to lead.

We at NHSA are working closely with the leadership of local Head Start programs in Flint, the Michigan Head Start Association, national philanthropies, staff from the Michigan Governor's office and Michigan Legislature, and members from our Head Start community across the nation to:

  • provide training for "parent ambassadors" who will do door to door outreach to identify children (and pregnant women) who need services and get them connected to Head Start or Early Head Start;
  • organize parents and other local resources (such as Americorps and VISTA volunteers) to provide on-the-ground services;
  • secure funding sources for local programs to expand their services to serve every at-risk child in Flint;
  • and more...

How You Can Help

Our immediate goal is to get training for the parents in Flint who will be providing so much of the direct, on-the-ground support. We have a special Disaster Relief Fund which has helped programs and families in earlier disasters. You can help by making a donation to the Disaster Relief Fund. And be sure to also tell everyone you know to do the same. With lead exposure leading to loss of cognitive capacity and challenging behaviors, the trajectory of the lives of thousands of Flint children is at stake. 



Photo Credit: Bill Pugliano/Getty Images