Illinois backlog delays Head Start classes at new Crystal Lake location

CRYSTAL LAKE – The local Head Start program was all ready to start class at a new location in Crystal Lake this month, its executive director said.

But a shortage of Illinois Department of Children and Family Services employees to handle facility applications has caused a backlog, department spokesman Andrew Flach said. The department has a few job postings in the department that haven't been filled.

That's likely to cause problems for the Community Action Agency for McHenry County in Woodstock, which runs the area Head Start programs, said its new executive director Alma Wright.

Head Start provides early childhood education to low-income families across the country. A family of three would need to make less than $20,090 to qualify, and a family of four would need to make less than $24,250.

Wright said her agency is already paying rent for the new space at Real Life Church in Crystal Lake and salaries for its staff, she said. The staff has been assigned to its other locations in Harvard, Cary and McHenry and at the already existing program at Bethany Lutheran Church in Crystal Lake as she waits.

Once the program starts – Wright has no time frame on when approval could come through – Head Start will still provide the two classrooms worth of students to be located at the new space the full year, but that could mean classes letting out in late June – six to eight weeks later than normal.

To cover the extra weeks of salaries and rent, the organization will have to cut services in other areas, perhaps eliminating some of the help hired over the summer to put together the programs for the coming year or by asking for donations or grants to cover books and materials, Wright said.

"It will be tough, but it will have to come from some place in the budget," she said.

Community Action Agency for McHenry County's Head Start program serves 267 children through a federal grant, Wright said. The new classrooms in Crystal Lake will replace two of the four classrooms currently meeting in Cary, serving low-income families in Crystal Lake, Lake in the Hills and Algonquin.

The Crystal Lake space will give Head Start a place to offer training and other assistance to parents and families, said Wright, who oversaw that aspect of Head Start's programming before starting as the agency's new executive director in May.

"Head Start believes that parents are the first educator for the children," she said, adding that families sign family partnership agreements that develop goals for the parents like getting a GED, addressing health and mental issues or finding a job.

Parents and guardians also make up the organization's Policy Council, which reviews policies, budgets and other administrative details.

About 20 percent of the nonprofit's budget is covered by volunteer hours, much of that provided by families, Wright said.

Looking forward, Community Action Agency for McHenry County hopes to expand its offerings for children before the age of three, Wright said, adding that they're looking to grants to make that possible. They currently provide preschool to 3- to 5-year-olds.

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