Bittersweet victory for Contra Costa Co. head start program

Contra Costa County recently received $3.4 million from a federal grant  to fund its Early Head Start program.

But county officials say they still face a tough challenge. Camilla Rand, the Head Start director  says winning the grant was a small victory since thousands of children in the county will be left behind.

At the Balboa Children's Center, it's storytelling time Thursday afternoon.

And county officials want to share the story of their program early childhood education that's designed to help children from the most challenging of circumstances.   
5-year-old Lola Mariscal is deaf in one ear.  Her father says Early Head Start has helped his daughter flourish.

He says the county provides for what he can not afford as an auto equipment installer. 

"It's not just ---here's my kids.  They're going to keep them for 8 hours and I come pick them up. They're just going to feed them and let them do what they want to do.  They actually educate them here," says Vicente Mariscal, the father of three children. 

The families chosen for Early Head Start must be low income and are based in part on income.

Children with special needs, in foster care, or if they're homeless are given priority. The program's director describes the approach as comprehensive.

"We really look at the family as a whole.  It's so much more than childcare, "says Camilla Rand, Head Start Director.

"I went from shelter to shelter... place to place," says Ashley Utley,

The single mom says she was homeless until a month and a half ago.

She says the county's comprehensive approach to helping families included offering her a job and Early Head Start for her son.

"Very stressful for me knowing that it's not stable for my children.  To have a place for my children to call home...I have no words for that," says Utley.

The new federal grant will allow the Contra Costa County  to help 190 additional children bringing the total to 500.

But Rand says there's three thousand children on the waiting list.

She says Head Start and Early Head Start  is a necessity for these families.

"In order for parents to be an effective advocate and caregiver for their child because they are the most important adult in the child's life , they need to be okay. They need to be safe," says Rand.

"Without it, I wouldn't have a job.  And without a job, I wouldn't have a home," says Utley," Without it, me and my children would still be in a shelter...still searching for that place to go home."

Rand says every year, the county is forced to turn away about two thousand families because there isn't enough funding.

She's urging the public  to contact lawmakers to ask them to support federal funding for these early childhood programs.