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UW-Milwaukee - Center for Economic Development

Technical Assistance Report Abstract

Support Service Utilization Among Head Start Parents in Wisconsin, prepared for The Wisconsin Head Start State Collaboration Project, 11/99, by Pamela S. Fendt

Executive Summary

The Wisconsin Head Start State Collaboration Project sponsored this research project to determine whether there are low-income families in Wisconsin who are eligible for support service programs who are not using them. The programs studied in this project include: W-2, Medicaid, Food Stamps, subsidized child care, and Head Start. The study also sought to outline potential barriers that prevent families from using programs.

This project studied one subset of low-income families in Wisconsin--those who had a child enrolled in Head Start in the first six months of 1999. Head Start families are an appropriate universe for a study of low-income families' access to supportive services in the wake of welfare reform, because Head Start families have young children and they are poor, as income eligibility for the program is set at 100 percent of the federal poverty level. All of the other programs under study here have higher income limits than Head Start, so in principle Head Start parents would be eligible for all of them.

Data for this project was gathered in three ways. A mailed survey to Head Start families that yielded 284 responses (a 40 percent response rate) serves as the basis for documenting usage of and eligibility for the support programs. Thirteen focus group discussions were held in different locations throughout the state in order to provide more in-depth detail on access issues. 104 parents participated in the focus group sessions. Interviews with twenty staff members or administrators from support service programs were conducted to better understand eligibility and access issues from an administrative or provider standpoint.

The report documents usage of these programs and recounts access issues shared by Head Start parents and staff, and administrators of other programs. The survey findings outlined in the following table reveal varying usage levels among the support services programs that were studied.

Support Service Utilization by Head Start Families

Support Program
Survey Families Using Program
Survey Families Eligible for Program
 W-2 (cash assistance)
 Food Stamps
 Healthy Start
 Child care subsidy
 Head Start
The margin of error for the survey results is + or - 6%.

The summary of family income and program participation information gathered from survey respondents indicates that significantly more Wisconsin Head Start families are eligible for support programs than are making use of them.

This finding raises a second tier of questions in relation to each of the support programs studied. Why don't Head Start parents use W-2, Food Stamps, Medicaid programs, and the child care subsidy if they are eligible for them? Although a number of reasons were raised in the study, confusion was the most common issue outlined by Head Start parents who participated in the study, and by staff and administrators from the various programs as well. The lack of clear information about the programs (i.e. their eligibility criteria, application procedures, and rules for maintaining enrollment) has played a role in limiting eligible Head Start families' utilization of them and has hampered collaboration between programs. In addition, some Head Start parents, and administrators shared their perceptions that philosophical differences between the programs act as a barrier that also affects potential usage and partnerships.

The complete report (364k) is available in Adobe's Acrobat format. Acrobat Reader is required to view the file. Use Adobe's web site to download a free copy of Acrobat Reader.

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