More of the county’s poorest babies and toddlers will have access to educational and health services through the Early Head Start Program, thanks to a $2 million federal grant the Manatee County Action Agency won last week.
Agency officials learned last Thursday the Manatee County program would receive a federal $2 million grant from the Department of Health and Human Services. The funds will go to expand the agency’s Early Head Start Program, which provides educational, health, nutritional and family support to needy children from six weeks to three years old.
“The younger that you can start working with the children the better outcomes will be present,” said Kathy Patreka, the Head Start and Early Head Start director for the agency.
That $2 million will go toward clearing a 90-family waiting list for Early Head Start and will help handle the growing number of Manatee families looking for help during their child’s vital early years. 80 more families will be able to participate in the existing Early Head Start Program, which currently provides services to 112 children. The program will add 10 new classrooms, each staffed by two teachers and with space for eight children.
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Patreka said a typical day for a child in Early Head Start would begin with a nutritious breakfast at 8 a.m., followed by a day of stimulating activities. With a 1-to-4 caretaker to child ratio, the program is a costly one, and Patreka said it is increasingly in demand.
Agency president and CEO Barbara Patten said one of the reasons Manatee County’s agency won the grant, which was given to just 84 of the 600 applicants, is because of collaboration with other Manatee County services. The agency partners with Manatee Rural Health Services’ dentists and therapist from Centerstone Bradenton and the School District of Manatee County.
And, she said Manatee was likely a winner simply due to the demographics of the county.
“We have a lot of poverty in Manatee County, and we have a lot of children living in poverty,” Patten said.
The agency must raise funds to match 20 percent of the $2 million grant.