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Head Start programs expanding as 3rd anniversary of Flint tap water switch nears

Pre-schoolers playing at a table.
steve carmody
Michigan Radio
Children at the Carman-Ainsworth Early Head Start program.

This week, the city of Flint will mark the third anniversary of its ill-fated drinking water switch. 

The switch to the Flint River was the first in a series of decisions that created the water crisis.

Since then, many different approaches have been taken to mitigate the effects of lead-tainted drinking water on the roughly 100,000 people who call Flint home.

There has been a big focus on Flint’s children.

“Choose a book and have a seat,” a teacher told students in a Head Start program on Flint’s south side last week during a visit by U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Flint, and several members of the news media.

“It’s not just about fixing pipes,” says Kildee, “but actually about proving the kind of wrap-around services that give all these kids the best shot they can.”

Hundreds of Flint-area children under four years old enrolled in Early Head Start programs during the past year. Federal funds helped expand the programs to help children facing potential cognitive and behavioral development problems after drinking lead-tainted tap water. In addition to providing mental stimulation, the programs also offer nutritious foods intended to counter the effects of lead exposure.

“We are seeing improvements,” says Cheryl Gerrish, the director with the Early Head Start program. “We do a ‘core advantage assessment’ with the children. We do that three times a year. And you do see the progress in the children.”

But Rep. Kildee sees a problem going forward.

“We don’t know where President Trump stands on this issue, what his priorities will be,” says Kildee, “His initial budget proposal was not good in terms of the programming supporting this program in particular.”

Kildee does hope Congress, which writes the budget, will boost funding.  

Steve Carmody has been a reporter for Michigan Public since 2005. Steve previously worked at public radio and television stations in Florida, Oklahoma and Kentucky, and also has extensive experience in commercial broadcasting.
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