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Reps. Kline and Rokita Seek Information on Head Start's Safety and Health Procedures

Dear Secretary Burwell,

As members of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, we are responsible for oversight of the Head Start Act and write today deeply concerned about the health and safety of children enrolled in the Head Start program. This concern stems from apparent discrepancies in how the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) decides when to suspend or terminate the contracts of Head Start and Early Head Start grantees and whether those decisions are made in the best interest of the children being served.

From December 2, 2014 to December 13, 2014, the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) conducted an Environmental Health and Safety review of the New York City Administration for Children’s Services (NYC ACS) Head Start program. NYC ACS serves approximately 13,000 children in 196 centers across the city, with an annual federal grant of approximately $130 million. At the time of its review, inspectors identified significant health and safety problems that place the children under the care of NYC ACS in immediate danger.

On January 20, 2015, HHS sent a letter to NYC ACS detailing the specific areas of concern. In addition to noncompliance issues, such as a lack of licensure at 28 centers, the review revealed multiple reports of neglect and abuse at Head Start centers, including:

1. Unsanitary facilities (e.g., spilled bodily fluids were not properly cleaned up and areas affected were not disinfected);

2. Reports of missing and unattended children;

3. Physical abuse of student(s) by a teacher(s);

4. Physical abuse of student(s) by other student(s) at the instruction of a teacher(s);

5. Unreported sexual abuse of student(s) by other student(s);

6. Hazardous playground and facility equipment, and strangulation hazards, entrapment opportunities, gaps large enough for children to escape; and,

7. Exposure to poison and toxic substances, open cleaning materials, rat and rodent feces in kitchen or meal areas, asbestos and mold, and other ‘not as severe’ hazards.

The report outlined 17 incidents of teachers physically injuring or abusing children by hitting, biting, or pushing them, or encouraging children to injure one another. In one instance, a teacher allegedly hit a 4-year old child with a belt and was allowed to return to the classroom after a two-week reassignment. HHS provided NYC ACS Head Start programs up to 120 days to come into compliance, rather than taking the more strict action of revoking or suspending the grant.   

To read the full letter to Secretary Burwell, click here

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