ND Head Start Programs Encounter Enrollment Issues

Mike Moen
Special to Devils Lake Daily Journal

FARGO - As North Dakota families navigate the latest phase of the pandemic, community action agencies worry the crisis is affecting parents' enrollment decisions for Head Start programs.

These regional organizations carry out school readiness programs for low-income families across North Dakota.

In Fargo, Lindsey Burkhardt is the Head Start birth to five director for the Southeastern North Dakota Community Action Agency.

Recently, they've had roughly 75 openings for their program, and she said she can't remember having this kind of a struggle to keep classrooms full.

"And we have had more and more families accept slots, but then they don't show up," said Burkhardt. "We can't find them. There's just so many things that we're finding as barriers. "

Directors say transportation issues might be a factor, while acknowledging the likelihood of some families losing a loved one to COVID, affecting their ability to get their child to Head Start site.

Family members who are immunocompromised are cited as another factor.

Locally and statewide, agencies are ramping up their outreach and recruitment to reach eligible families.

Those increased efforts include using COVID funding to bring in more recruitment staff, while updating materials.

Burkhardt said they're especially worried about not enrolling enough four-year-olds, which could put them back as they move up the education ladder.

"We want our children enrolled in our program to go to kindergarten on their first day and be just as well-equipped to start that and have the same starting line as other children," said Burkhardt.

The agencies say just like child-care centers across the state, Head Start programs face staffing shortages. But leaders say that shouldn't prevent eligible families from applying to Head Start.

The statewide Community Action Partnership says it's hearing of similar enrollment issues in its Dickinson and Jamestown locations.