Imagine if your child went to school every day at a place that had machetes near the playgrounds posing the threat of serious accidents, household chemicals within reach of preschoolers, and teachers who were hired without a criminal background check.
These violations that could lead to potential injury and others were found at Head Start centers across the country, according to a report released Tuesday by the inspector general of the Health and Human Services Department.
Head Start is a federally funded program , started during Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty, that provides early education services to the children of low-income families. The federal government gives grant money to public, non-profit and for-profit programs to provide the services.
The violations were discovered at several locations across the country. In Colorado, screws were found sticking out from bookcases within reach of children. The children’s bathrooms in Texas went months without any lighting, and expired baby formula was found in the refrigerators at a center in the District of Columbia.
The review was compiled using 24 audits of Head Start grantees running 175 facilities in seven different states. While there are around 1,600 Head Start grantees, these starting discoveries raise some red flags about the whole program.
According to the review:
- Twenty-one of 24 grantees didn’t comply with the federal Head Start or state requirements to conduct criminal and other background checks.
- Nearly 90 percent of the facilities had toxic chemicals labeled “keep out of reach of children” and cleaning supplies that were clearly within reach of children.
- More than 70 percent had open or broken gates leading to parking lots, streets or unsupervised areas and inadequate or broken fences.
Quality and supervision at Head Start facilities has been an ongoing issue. Last month, President Barack Obama called Head Start “an outstanding program and a critical investment,” but he said more accountability was needed.
Several Head Start locations are working to correct the problems, but under new rules announced by Obama, low-performing facilities will have to compete for funding if they cannot keep up with federal standards.