Head Start program still operational as it appeals federal investigation

Head Start program still operational as it appeals federal investigation

SOUTH MISSISSIPPI (WLOX) - The Gulf Coast Community Action Agency's Head Start program is still operating a month after it was told its federal funding would be pulled.

The Head Start program was investigated for five cases of child abuse, and federal officials say the agency didn't do enough to fix the issues.

The claims of child abuse at the Harry C. Tartt, Isiah Fredericks and Nichols Head Start Centers were investigated in December 2013 by the Department of Health & Human Services.

Afterward, the Gulf Coast Community Action Agency was given a list of things it had to do, but during a follow up investigation last year, DHS determined the agency still wasn't in compliance, and the decision was made to pull federal funding.

Agency consultant Karen Sock says the agency has filed an appeal, along with documentation to support its claim that it had met all requirements. Sock says the five employees involved in the original abuse claims have been fired.

"We provide training for our staff," Sock said. "The safety and wellbeing of our children is our top priority. We have a camera in every single classroom, and as soon as we're aware of anything that is outside of our operating policies and procedures, we suspend the individual. We do a complete investigation, and if and when necessary, we terminate."

Just this week, the Community Action Agency was notified by the Department of Health and Human Services that a prehearing will be held either April 8 or 9 to make sure that the Head Start programs are in compliance.

The agency, in its 45th year of operation, currently serves more than 1,300 children, ages 3 to 4, in its seven Head Start centers.

Sock says no children have dropped out of the program as a result of the notification of termination.

Diedre Breedlove, who has two grandchildren in the Harry C. Tartt Head Start Center, feels much better.

"They take into consideration all of my concerns," Breedlove said. "Any issues I've had, they've been super on top of it. I think it would be a tragedy if the kids didn't have Head Start."

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