Students and staff of the Waynesville Missouri Ozarks Community Action (MOCA) Head Start program greeted two public officials who arrived at their door to celebrate the organization. Dr. George A. Lauritson, a former educator himself, and Michael France, Mayor Pro Tem of St. Robert, signed individual proclamations declaring October as Head Start Awareness Month.

2017 marks MOCA Head Start’s 53rd year of being the “longest running, national child development program in the United States,” according to a release issued by the organization. Head Starts works to provide education, health and nutrition as well as parent engagement services to low-income children and their families.

“In addition to focusign on the needs of children, Head Start engages the parents in the education of their own children (and) in decision making for the program,” read one line of the proclamation signed by both officials.

Currently, MOCA Head Start serves 50 different families in the Waynesville area and according to Home Visitor Della Miller, is working to expand by adding the Early Head Start program.

“We’ll have two options,” explained Miller. “We’ll have the center-based option which will serve children from birth to the age of three…and then we’ll have the home-based option, which I’m a part of. I’ll visit with ten different families and I’ll actually go into their home once a week.”

Miller said the Early Head Start program is about parent education, and will still perform the screenings the normal Head Start program current does, such as hearing and vision screenings, and making sure the children are up to date on their shots.

While doing home visits, Miller said she will be able to serve prenatal women as well, and work with the children up to the age of three. This Early Head Start will be offered in both Waynesville and Lebanon, who are piloting the program.

“There’s a need for it. We’re seeing there’s a higher need to serve those families with younger children or even the prenatal women,” said Miller. “The whole purpose of it  is for those healthy outcomes, the healthy outcomes of pregnancy and the healthy outcomes in catching those development…delays early, because early intervention is key when you’re dealign with children.”

By working with families in their homes, Miller said she will be able to more effectively deliver parent education, and help them learn how to teach their children, as well as developing a deeper with the children.

“The parent is the child’s first teacher, the child’s most important teacher. Fostering that early on, giving parents those skills to teach their children, that’s what this is all about,” Miller said. “It’s all about creating that partnership and that relationship early on. Feasibly, if I had a prenatal (client) we could be working with her for a total of five or six years, from Early Head Start into Head Start and as they move into the public school system. “

Parents can become involved with the Early Head Start program as soon as they find out they’re pregnant, according to Miller. Al that’s required is proof of pregnancy, which can be obtained from a pregnancy support center or a doctor. The application for Early Head Start is the same as the regular Head Start application.

Miller said she hopes the program will officially start in a few weeks, and in the meantime they are contacting families who have applied to the program. Miller said there are some spots still open, as they are implementing what she described as a staggered start by bringing in a few families at time. Even if these spots fill up, a wait list is available for families who wish to become involved.

Miller said they are always accepting applications and encouraged parents to look into the program.

“Whenever you work with a family in their own environment, they are more comfortable with you and it’s going to be easier to help them,” she said. “That relationship is going to be forged a lot quicker. You can see what’s going on…in that household and that allows you to help them more.”

Families can learn more about Head Start and Early Head Start by visiting mocaonline.org,