The Montana Head Start State Collaboration Office (MTHSSCO) is located in and overseen by the Early Childhood Services Bureau of the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services (DPHHS). The mission of the MTHSSCO is to impact the lives of low-income children and families by influencing state and local policy and the effective delivery of services, while linking Head Start programs and communities through collaborative relationships.
The mission of the Early Childhood Services Bureau is to improve the quality, affordability, and accessibility of child care in Montana, with focused efforts on coordinated systems to best meet the needs of young children, their families, and the professionals who work on behalf of young children and families. The goals of DPHHS include:
- All Montana children are healthy, safe and in permanent, loving homes.
- All Montanans have the tools and support to be as self-sufficient as possible.
- All Montanans are injury free, healthy and have access to quality health care.
- All Montanans can contribute to the above through community service.
The MTHSSCO works collaboratively across systems and sectors to actively engage and improve the health and well-being of children and families in Montana. Though their focus is to advocate for Head Start within state government, through information sharing and strategic design of initiatives, MTHSSCO is also actively engaged in preparing for the future of early childhood to best meet the needs of low-income children, families, and communities.
Major partnerships include:
- Early Childhood Systems Building: Early childhood is a priority of the Governor's Office and the MTHSSCO is among administrators from DPHHS and the Office of Public Instruction (OPI) to participate in systems initiatives. MTHSSCO researches and develops briefs to illustrate where we are in terms of early childhood systems, as well as where we want to be. Policy initiatives are presented to demonstrate cross-sector systems work occurring in early childhood between Early Head Start, Head Start, child care, Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting (MIECHV), as well as the public school system. Preschool in Montana is not widely available.
- State and Local Community Initiatives to Build Collaboration and Sustainability: The State Best Beginnings Advisory Council works parallel to 25 local community coalitions to exchange information and build statewide sustainability in early childhood. The MTHSSCO works with local community coalitions to develop messages and outreach plans pertinent to early childhood, and with members of the business community, policy makers, parents, and educators to develop messaging strategies.
- Grant Proposals to Improve the Lives of the Most Vulnerable: MTHSSCO collaborates with agencies and programs writing grants that will have a direct impact on Head Start in the state. For example, the 2013 Early Childhood Comprehensive Services Grant aims to mitigate trauma and toxic stress in ages 0-3. This will directly impact Early Head Start programs in the areas where this grant will be implemented. A collaborative grant with the Nutrition and Physical Activity (NAPA) program proposed a targeted effort on decreasing child obesity through the implementation of IMIL with Head Start programs across the state.
- Health: The MTHSSCO collaborates with Medicaid to improve screenings for children through Early and Periodic Screening, Diagnostic, and Treatment (EPSDT). They also partner with MIECHV to build collaboration and understanding in Head Start and Early Head Start programs.
- Homelessness: The Title I Coordinator and the MTHSSCO develop processes to help Head Start and school districts better understand the laws that assure homeless children receive education rights.
- Head Start Association: Members of the Head Start Association provide feedback and input on goals and are included in many statewide process and initiatives, including professional development, coaching, and technical assistance systems building in early childhood.
- School Readiness: The area of school readiness is a major initiative of Head Start. The MTHSSCO works with programs to assure they are receiving information and using it in a way that improves outcomes. They have focused efforts in reaching out to Tribal Head Start programs to increase participation and assure everyone can benefit from learning opportunities.
The Montana Best Beginnings State Advisory Council is the identified State Advisory Council. MTHSSCO is appointed by the Governor to participate. They are involved in state processes such as the needs assessment and strategic plan and participate in cross-sector systems work with other committees.
The major goals of MTHSSCO include:
- Ensuring early childhood systems in Montana are inclusive of Head Start
- Coordinating and collaborating with early childhood partners and advocates to streamline early childhood systems and improve outcomes for children and families
- Linking Head Start grantees with local, state, and federal initiatives to improve practice and policy
- Developing new partnerships to further the goals of Head Start in Montana
In addition to the contributions listed above, MTHSSCO has accomplished the following:
- Increased collaboration among state and local partners through cross-sector strategic meetings
- Elicited understanding about early childhood systems and how they can be improved to better serve children and families
- Developed policy proposals to assure the most vulnerable children are being served and that state agencies are receptive to underlying needs that must be addressed before learning can begin
- Successfully brought partners together to strategically address the Head Start priority areas
- Informed a variety of stakeholders about the role of Head Start and the long-term benefits of comprehensive services, as defined in the Head Start Act, through a needs assessment.