Late last month, Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici toured one of Neighborhood House’s Head Start sites in Northwest Portland.
Neighborhood House’s Head Start, Early Head Start, and Preschool Promise Programs provide free and affordable early childhood education to children ages 0-5 at three sites on Portland’s west side. These programs prepare children for success in school and beyond.
However, as Congresswoman Bonamici highlighted during her visit, there is a child care and early childhood education crisis happening in Oregon – and across the country.
According to Oregon’s Early Learning Division, 492 preschoolers in Multnomah County are on waitlists for four Head Start and Oregon Pre-K providers. This makes Multnomah County, and every county in Oregon, a child care desert. This is due primarily to an extreme lack of qualified staff.
Neighborhood House Head Start Education Coordinator Caitlin Curtis said of the issue, “We are not at capacity, most of our classrooms are not fully enrolled and both of our centers have classrooms that are not even open because we are unable to staff them to ratio.”
Lindsay Wills, Neighborhood House Head Start Director, said there can be barriers to entering the field. Head teachers at the Head Start preschool programs need a bachelor’s degree.
“I do think there needs to be different pathways,” Wills said. “I don’t believe college is the right pathway for every teacher. I think we can build skills with apprenticeship programs, which is something we do internally in our programs.”
Many teachers in Neighborhood House’s Head Start Programs were once parents who gained experience and training on-site from already qualified teachers.
This crisis highlights the importance not only of Neighborhood House’s Head Start Programs, but also Neighborhood House’s work with at-home child care providers. Our Child Care Improvement Project and the new Oregon Child Care Alliance support child care businesses through business and technical support, community building, and more.
Please see this article by Courtney Vaughn in the Portland Tribune for more information.