Catholic Social Services (CSS), Refugee Resettlement Office of the Diocese of Charlotte, Inc.
Head Start Enrollment
This program was designed to assist refugee parents with the placement of their children in the local Head Start program. Initially, CSS-RO Charlotte incorporated childcare with English language development courses for adults but there were not enough resources to provide the appropriate space and staff for a childcare program, fostering the need for a formalized program. In addition, Head Start provides a range of early childhood development and family services that refugee families were able to benefit from.
Enrolling in Head Start can be challenging for refugee families to do on their own, due to cultural, language and literacy barriers. The CSS-RO Charlotte instituted special services to address these barriers and support the early enrollment of refugee families. CSS-RO Charlotte's Head Start Enrollment program assisted families with the paperwork required to enroll their children in Head Start. The program also coordinated an orientation for the parents at the Head Start facility and provided interpreters for them. During the orientation the children were observed by Head Start teachers in a Head Start classroom, familiarizing the children with the staff and facility, and the teachers with the children. Transportation to the orientation was provided by Head Start on a bus, which also helped to familiarize parents and children with the bus system. Staff (including interpreters) from the CSS-RO Charlotte accompanied parents to the Parent/Teacher conferences, held once each school year. After the children were enrolled, the ESL coordinator from CSS-RO Charlotte facilitated regular communication between Head Start staff and the refugee parents.
Head Start program staff, in conjunction with CSS-RRO interpreters, oriented the parents to the program schedule, transportation procedures, dress code, attendance, home visit and conference policy, supportive services for families and nutrition services offered by the facility. At the orientation, parents were given the opportunity to ask questions through the interpreters. Each family received a Parent Handbook and Community Resource Guide.
This program has served refugee families with three and four year old children in the Charlotte, North Carolina metro area. Populations served include: Somali Bantu, Montagnard, Liberian, Hmong, Vietnamese, and Cuban. Between 5 and 20 refugee children and families have been served each year.
The English as a Second Language program is funded by various grants, including through the ORR funded Preferred Communities and Targeted Assistance Grants. The ESL program also receives funding from private foundations. Case management/interpretation services receive funding from RAP (Refugee Assistance Program).
The ESL Coordinator for CSS spends about 10% of her time working on the Head Start Enrollment program.
Head Start provides early childhood development and education assessments of the children enrolled; evaluations of children's progress are shared with the parents and resettlement staff at the Parent/Teacher conferences.
As a case example, one Somali Bantu child showed a tremendous increase in his language skills after attending the Head Start program. Before attending, he spoke very little English (and his native language skills were still emerging). After one summer in the Head Start program, he began eagerly playing with children throughout the neighborhood, communicating fluently in both English and his native Maay-Maay. His parents attributed this change to his experiences at Head Start.
The ESL Coordinator researched services in the area and discovered that Head Start could enroll three to four year olds at no cost to the refugee families. The Coordinator then developed working relationships and identified several members of the Head Start staff as counterparts. The Family and Community Partnership Program Manager, who was identified early on as one such counterpart, agreed to list the refugee children in Charlotte as priority placements, giving them preference over other applicants.
This program ran every year from 2005 to 2010, it is no longer operating.