A proposal that proponents say would improve child care services in Fairfax County by consolidating all government-sponsored programs has evolved into a major battle between two county agencies and a host of citizen activists.
The most contentious aspect of the issue is a proposal to move the Head Start program, which provides day care and other services to about 1,000 county children, from the Department of Community Action to the Office for Children. Five administrative positions and about $3.6 million in Head Start funding would be shifted under the proposal, recommended to the Board of Supervisors by county staff.
The board will address the issue at its meeting Monday.
Although the proposal sparked a major turf battle between the two agencies, it also prompted more than 30 phone calls to the country executive's office, many from child care proponents concerned that services might suffer if Head Start changes hands.
Deputy County Executive for Human Services Verdia L. Haywood said there would "absolutely not" be any reduction in services to children and their families if the switch is approved. He said eligibility requirements for various programs would not change, and that Head Start child care services would continue to be offered free.
"With one exception, after talking with people and explaining the purpose, the fears, rumors and innuendoes have been neutralized," Haywood said late yesterday. "The bottom line is people are concerned that the service delivery is continued and enhanced, and that certainly is going to be done in this case."
Child care services currently managed by the Department of Human Services also would be moved to the Office for Children under the proposal. No staff members would be shifted, but about $850,000 in funding would be transferred.
Centralizing the management of child care services is necessary to maximize resources and enroll children in the appropriate program, according to County Executive J. Hamilton Lambert. "If we are looking at diminishing resources -- especially on the federal level -- and we want to maximize services, consolidation is the only way to do it," he said.
Linda Singer, a member of the Community Action Advisory Board, disagreed, saying, "We deliver services to an entire family," which is especially important to Head Start's low-income clients.
"Our program is a complete child-family program with other phases. We help parents get jobs, get the child clothing and food, offer counseling to parents. The Office for Children won't do that," she said.
Supervisor Elaine N. McConnell (R-Springfield) said child care programs offered by the Office of Children are poorly structured, and added, "I would have great difficulty supporting the proposal unless I knew the Head Start program would be protected to the fullest extent and not corrupted or interfered with."
Singer said she was "suspicious" that people at the Department for Community Action were not told of the proposed changes until last Wednesday and had no input in the plan.
Vice Chairman Martha V. Pennino (D-Centreville) said that though the concept was good, she would recommend delaying its implementation because "we need to get together to see if it really will lead to better services . . . . We can take care of everybody's concerns if they are involved in drawing up the program."