GCCAA loses Head Start funding after failing to correct 'abuse p - WLOX.com - The News for South Mississippi

GCCAA loses Head Start funding after failing to correct 'abuse problems'

Head Start centers are closed for Christmas break, but were expected to reopen on Jan. 5. (Photo source: WLOX) Head Start centers are closed for Christmas break, but were expected to reopen on Jan. 5. (Photo source: WLOX)
One employee told us she was told "there's no guarantee anyone will be rehired." (Photo source: WLOX) One employee told us she was told "there's no guarantee anyone will be rehired." (Photo source: WLOX)
HARRISON COUNTY, MS (WLOX) -

The Gulf Coast Community Action Agency will no longer operate seven federally funded Head Start centers in Harrison County.

Wednesday, the Department of Health and Human Services Departmental Appeals Board upheld the decision to terminate federal funding to the program following disturbing and reoccurring allegations of child abuse and failure to report those incidents to state authorities.

Thursday morning, Head Start employees from across Harrison County came to the Isiah Fredericks Head Start Center in Gulfport where they received letters telling them their employment was ending Friday. The letters given to Head Start employees explain that an outside company, Community Development Institute, will run Head Start for six months.

All of the non-management employees will have to reapply for their jobs beginning Friday. One employee told us she was told "there's no guarantee anyone will be rehired."

Sources also told us there's no guarantee all seven of the Harrison County Head Start Centers will reopen.

Head Start centers are closed for Christmas break, but are expected to reopen on Jan. 5.

The Administration for Children and Families sent GCCAA a notice of deficiency requiring immediate correction on April 25, 2014 after a review of the organization uncovered five incidents of child abuse and corporal punishment at the Harrison County Head Start facilities.

The incidents occurred on Sept. 9 and 25, 2013, Nov. 19, 2013 and Jan. 14, 2014 and involved multiple teachers/assistant teachers engaging in conduct that included intentionally tossing a female child off a cot, hitting one child repeatedly with a ruler and spanking another, grabbing a child by her shirt and dragging her across the floor and shouting at her, pulling a child by the arm, hitting a child on the hand and bending back his fingers until they hurt and hitting another child on his face.

GCCAA did not dispute findings that it failed to report one of the incidents to the Mississippi State Department of Health. The organization was fined for failure to report.

From the time GCCAA received the notice of deficiency, it had 30 days to implement corrective measures.

ACF sent GCCAA a notice of termination on Dec. 17, 2014 after a follow-up review showed another instance of abuse occurred in April of 2014, and GCCAA failed to report that to state authorities.

Gulf Coast does not dispute that on June 9, 2014, T.B, the Assistant Manager of the Harry C. Tartt Center, reported to D.C., the Center Manager, that in April 2014, an Assistant Teacher, M.S., told her (T.B.) that V.P., the lead teacher in her classroom, “hit [a] child on several occasions; one time spelling his name as she hit his hand (one time for each letter of his name) and other times just punched him, all due to his behavior.

GCCAA failed to follow state child abuse reporting guidelines when it did not report the abuse allegations. The failure to report also went against the organization’s own “revised” policy.

“Whatever plans were in place to have gotten the job done…did, in fact, fall short,” testified Dr. Jeffrey Fredericks, Regional Program manager for the Office of Head Start, at a July 16, 2015 evidentiary hearing. “And the first instance coming out of the gate right after the corrective action period was mishandled by an agency with a record of substantiated claims of abuse.”

It has been nearly a year since GCCAA appealed the notice of termination. DHHS shot down the appeal, saying “We conclude the Gulf Coast’s efforts to correct its deficiency are not material, most importantly, but not exclusively, because those efforts did not correct the abuse problems that led to ACF’s deficiency determination and ultimately to termination of Gulf Coasts’ Head Start grant.”

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services issued this statement about what’s to come for Head Start employees and the organization moving forward:

The HHS Administration for Children and Families is committed to the communities in which a Head Start grant has been awarded, and strives to ensure services continue with minimal disruption to children and families. With this grant of $9 million annually, Gulf Coast Community Action Agency (GCCAA) provided comprehensive services to 1,368 Head Start children in eight centers. In order to ensure minimal disruption to children and families, the HHS Administration for Children and Families has deployed Community Development Institute Head Start (CDI Head Start) as an interim provider of Head Start services in the areas served by Gulf Coast Community Action Agency.  CDI Head Start will provide Head Start services until the formal competitive process for finding a new grantee can be completed, and a Head Start grant is awarded to a new agency.

The Head Start at Gulf Coast Community Action Agency is already scheduled to begin its two week holiday break at noon on December 17. Assuming full cooperation of the community and Gulf Coast Community Action Agency, CDI Head Start will resume services on schedule in the new year.

CDI Head Start is interested in hiring qualified Head Start staff who pass the required local, state and federal background investigations.  CDI Head Start, will host a job fair for Gulf Coast Community Action Agency employees. CDI Head Start has determined the number of classroom and program management staff necessary to continue providing the same level Head Start services as previously provided under Gulf Coast Community Action Agency.   The fair is open to the Head Start employees that were on staff with Gulf Coast Community Action Agency when the grant was terminated.  Any vacancies still open after all the applications have been evaluated will be posted on the website and opened up to any eligible and interested person in the community. 

CDI Head Start will provide Head Start services until the formal competitive process for finding a new grantee can be completed, and a Head Start grant is awarded to a new agency.  Head Start grants are awarded directly to public or private non-profit organizations, including school districts, within a community through a competitive process.  To receive a federal Head Start grant, agencies must apply through a competitive application in response to an open funding opportunity.  Applications are evaluated by an objective panel of non-federal reviewers to determine whether the applicants meet the criteria in the funding opportunity announcement.  This process helps ensure that the best available agency is selected to provide Head Start and Early Head Start services in this service area.

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