Head Start closures catch families off guard

Hundreds of low-income families are scrambling to find child care after a Pasadena-based social service agency announced the temporary closure of 10 local Head Start centers.

“I don’t have anybody to take care of her,” Alina Babakhanians said Friday as she dropped her daughter off at a Head Start site on Glendale Avenue. “Maybe I am going to lose my job, maybe not.”

The Center for Community and Family Services, a longtime Head Start administrator, announced Thursday that it was relinquishing its contract with the federally funded preschool program.

Its 10 Head Start centers, located in Pasadena and Glendale, will be closed for at least a week starting Monday, said director of communications Teena Smith. A letter announcing the closure was distributed to parents Thursday, leaving them with three days to find at least a temporary alternative.

Officials said they hope to have the center back up and running by Oct. 17, but many Head Start parents said they work or go to school full time and have few child care options. Most said they will probably have to stay home and risk losing their jobs.

An interim management company, Community Development Institute Head Start, could meet with existing staff as soon as Monday to start the rehiring process, Smith said.

Calls to the Community Development Institute Head Start went unanswered Friday.

Smith declined to elaborate on why the Center for Community and Family Services decided to cut ties, saying only that the relationship had soured.

“We relinquished the contract because the Head Start program basically made it impossible for us to manage the contract effectively,” Smith said.

The Center for Community and Family Services always received top marks for the management of the Head Start sites, she added.

“This is devastating for us; we have been administering this program for over 25 years,” Smith said. “All of our [centers] are in compliance. We have gone above and beyond the requirements.”

Established in 1965 under the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Head Start promotes school readiness among low-income families by providing free and low-cost preschool for children ages 3 to 5.

A related program, Early Head Start, services low-income pregnant women, infants and toddlers.

Parents at the Head Start center on Glendale Avenue said they are worried about the change in management, especially because it was unclear exactly when the site would reopen.

Information has been slow to come out, they said.

“They are still not sure if they are going to open,” Esperanza Muñoz said. “They hope to open the following week, but we can’t miss much work. The situation is very difficult. We don’t have family here, everyone lives in Mexico.”

The impact of the closures go beyond the Head Start students themselves, said parent Ani Aslanian.

“It is families; [it is] employees who work with our children,” Aslanian said. “It is crushing; it really is crushing.”

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