GCCAA loses Head Start funding following abuse investigation

GCCAA loses Head Start funding following abuse investigation

SOUTH MISSISSIPPI (WLOX) - The Gulf Coast Community Action Agency has lost federal funding for its Head Start Program following an investigation into five incident reports of child abuse at South Mississippi centers. That's according to a letter by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The notice of termination letter states the decision was made because the, "Head Start's program failed to timely correct the deficiencies identified," during a review on Thursday.

The letter says the Administration for Children and Families started a review of GCCAA's Head Start program on Dec. 18, 2013.

"Based on the information gathered during our review, an immediate deficiency that posed imminent harm or immediate danger to staff and/or children of the Head Start Program was identified," wrote Jeffrey Fredericks, Head Start Program Manager.

Fredericks went on to say GCCAA didn't make sure all staff followed the program's standard of conduct requiring them not to engage in corporal punishment or physical abuse. Fredericks said five incidents of suspected child abuse were reported toward the end of 2013 and two incidents were reported in Jan. of 2014.

"The Mississippi Department of Health substantiated these incidents of child abuse at the Isiah Fredericks and Nichols Head Start Centers."

GCCAA oversees seven Head Start centers in South Mississippi.

An overview of findings report obtained by WLOX News detailed the incidents.

The first incident was in Sept. of 2013 when a teacher at the Isiah Fredericks Center dumped a child from her sleeping cot onto the floor while the child was sleeping. The teacher then moved the cot to another area of the classroom.

Another incident happened in the same month, according to the report. In the second incident, a teacher hit a child with a ruler.

The letter states GCCAA received an overview report of the incidents in April, and GCCAA was instructed to take immediate corrective action to make sure incidents of physical abuse didn't happen again, but Fredericks said GCCAA had not done so.

Then, between April and July, Fredericks said a GCCAA employee did not immediately report suspected abuse at the Harry C. Tartt Center in Gulfport.

He went on to say GCCAA management did not suspend the alleged perpetrators, and they did not notify the state agency as required by Mississippi law and GCCAA's abuse and neglect policy.

"Until we receive notice and/or determination that states otherwise, the agency will continue services for our disadvantaged children and their families in our Head Start program (serving a funded enrollment of 1,368) for the grant period of Aug. 01, 2014 - July 31, 2015," wrote Karen Sock, a consultant for GCCAA, in a statement released Friday afternoon. "In addition, the agency will continue to serve our elderly, disabled, economically disadvantaged, children and families throughout our service areas."

GCCAA has 30 days to submit an appeal.

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