BHK hands tied in determining Head Start eligibility, service

HOUGHTON – There is a shortage of available placement of preschool-age children in the Copper Country, particularly for those families who do not meet all of the requirements that determine eligibility for the BHK Head Start program.

Due to BHK receiving federal and state funding, eligibility depends on several factors, said Cheryl Mills, executive director of BHK.

“We serve over 400 children, birth to five years, at a given time annually,” Mills said. “But we’re federally and state-funded to serve those most in need of services.”

Mills said she wishes BHK could serve all the children in the three-county area, but it is beyond the control of the organization.

“Our funding sources tell us who is eligible for those (services),” she said. “What level income, how many risk factors (and so on). All that is dictated to us, so we really don’t have that luxury of saying, ‘We would love every 4-year-old to be served.’ BHK just doesn’t have the capacity to do that themselves.”

While 400 may sound like a fair amount in terms of the number of children receiving BHK services, it is a low percentage, Mills said.

“When you look at the data, about 1 in 3 children have a formal placement for care in the three-county area that we serve,” she said. “There’s two-thirds of the population under 5 that BHK doesn’t touch.”

There are guidelines that must be followed when determining eligibility. Eligibility is partially determined by family income, which is based on the federal poverty level.

“The feds set the poverty level every year, and to be Head Start eligible, you have to be 100 percent or less of the poverty level,” Mills said. “A certain percentage – we can have up to 30 percent – that can have a little higher income – up to 130 percent – and then the 250 percent is if they’re 4-year-olds, the state funding will pay for a child up to that income.”

While some parents may be frustrated with the situation, BHK shares that emotion, particularly in trying to disclose to the public the variables involved in determining which families are eligible.

“It’s really hard for us to communicate to the public what income would make them eligible, because it’s the age of the child, it depends on the size of their family it depends on…so, there are many factors besides income that would qualify a family,” Mills said.