CASA of Santa Cruz County is grateful for the community partnership with Encompass Community Services (ECS) Head Start to strengthen our efforts to support children 0-5 and with high needs families due to life circumstances; including unhoused families, children with special needs, those involved in the child welfare system, experiencing poverty and experiencing crisis. ECS Head Start provides early education and wrap-around services to families with children ages 0-5. With early childcare programs throughout Santa Cruz and Watsonville and a home visiting program for infants and caregivers, their reach is far and wide.
There are definitive overlaps in the work of both organizations including advocating for the child’s best interest, supporting parents/caregivers to be the best parents they can be, utilizing trauma informed practices, and participating as a member of a team that supports the child’s safety and wellbeing. It is the goal of this collaboration between Head Start and CASA of Santa Cruz County to strengthen the understanding of the individual child’s development, needs, and school readiness, as well as increase the natural supports in their family’s life, which is an indicator to improve outcomes for children and families. Our agencies have a shared vision of empowering families, safety and stability for children, reducing stress and trauma that impact growth and learning, and contributing towards a positive experience and advocacy for young children.
CASA Advocates can work with Head Start early care providers to inform their assessment of a child’s development, social skills, strengths, and areas of concern to better advocate for services and supports for the child and family. With an increased risk for developmental delays due to prenatal and postnatal traumas, early intervention and access to quality childcare are essential building blocks for many of the children CASA serves in overcoming life’s early adversities, and yet, many of the children who could benefit from these services are unable to access them.
Only 1 in 6 children eligible for childcare payment assistance receives it and lack of childcare is noted as being significantly associated with an increase in child abuse and neglect investigations. Advocates can assist families with enrolling their children in free quality childcare to support their development and prepare them for school. Advocates can also observe their CASA child in their natural preschool environment, playing with their friends, and engaging with trusted caregivers who they spend extended periods of time with. Gathering objective information from multiple sources is part of a CASAs role in order to more fully understand an individual child and their needs.
Through our partnership, we hope to increase the number of children birth to five served by CASA in accessing quality early care and education services, prepare children for school readiness, and increase continuity of care for children who move homes while in foster care. Additionally, our agencies aim to continue to strengthen our partnership with the understanding that we can improve the experience of our children and families through collaboration and further contribute to positive outcomes.