The Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors acknowledged a federal report saying the county’s Head Start programs have deficiencies and non-compliance issues, saying the county would fix them within the recommended timeframes to avoid losing federal funding.

“Having been to many of these sites in West County, my district, over the past 20 or so years and seeing the value of these programs to parents, to children to families, this is clearly a high priority to get fixed, so we don’t have any impact on our funding and keep services in place for these families,” said District 1 Supervisor John Gioia.

The audit was done by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services on Feb. 21-25. According to a staff report submitted for the board’s Aug. 9 meeting, the county on July 14 received a report from the federal agency’s Administration for Children and Families (ACF) concerning Contra Costa County Head Start and Early Head Start programs.

The report found an area of non-compliance and five deficiencies in four service areas: program governance, safety practices, ongoing fiscal capacity and ongoing monitoring and continuous improvement.

The county must submit a quality improvement plan, approved by the Board of Supervisors, detailing a plan for corrective action within 30 days. The county then has anywhere from 30 to 120 days to correct each problem.

District 4 Supervisor Diane Burgis said it was her understanding many of the issues were self-reported and program turnover may have helped delay the process.

“This is something I know all of us find very important … it’s the babies, the kids, who are the most important folks in all of this,” Burgis said.

Needs improvement

The staff report did not provide many details. Inspectors said, “The recipient does not use data to identify program strengths, needs, and areas needing improvement; evaluate progress toward achieving program goals and compliance with program performance standards; and assess the effectiveness of professional development.”

It also said, “The recipient does not maintain a formal structure of program governance to oversee the quality of services for children and families and to make decisions related to program design and implementation.”

As far as safety practices are concerned, inspectors said the programs do not “implement a process for monitoring and maintaining healthy and safe environments.”

“This is something I know all of us find very important … it’s the babies, the kids, who are the most important folks in all of this.”

Supervisor Diane Burgis

Other deficiencies with safety practices included that the programs “did not ensure with subrecipient that no child was left alone or unsupervised while under care of the staff.”

It also said “The recipient did not ensure that staff/subrecipient did not maltreat or endanger the health and safety of children.”

There also were problems with ongoing fiscal capacity.

“The recipient does not plan and implement a fiscal management system that supports the organization’s ongoing capacity to execute its budget over time and meet the needs of its organization,” the report said.

‘We were appalled’

Board chairperson Karen Mitchoff said the board has been engaged with Head Start for many years and had no way of knowing about some of the issues the audit exposed.

“We were appalled when we heard some of them, and we want to immediately rectify them,” Mitchoff said. “We know there are areas in need of improvement.”

District 5 Supervisor Federal Glover said the audit will make the Head Start programs stronger.

“Actually, I appreciate the fact that we’re looking at this, and that we’re doing this update, because sometimes you find yourself where you can get lax and comfortable and some of these things you may not have had the oversight over,” Glover said. “So I think in terms of putting this corrective action plan makes a lot of sense in terms of being able to continue to deliver good, quality service.”