WASHINGTON, D.C. - U.S. Senator Gary Peters (MI) today visited Hurley Medical Center in Flint to announce new legislation he will be introducing along with Senator Debbie Stabenow to expand Head Start and Early Head Start enrollment for Flint kids exposed to lead. Peters was joined by Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, Director of Hurley Medical Center’s Pediatric Residency Program, whose work exposed elevated lead levels in Flint kids last year. The Children’s Head Start Intervention for Life and Development (CHILD) Act establishes one-time Head Start and Early Head Start grants to areas affected by water pollution from lead or another toxic substance resulting in an emergency declaration. Congressman Dan Kildee (MI-05), who also represents Flint, will introduce similar legislation in the House.
“The Flint water crisis will have lasting impacts for all of Flint residents, but especially its children, who are the most vulnerable to the cognitive, behavioral, and health challenges created by this man-made disaster, said Senator Peters. “Early education programs and wrap-around services, like the ones Head Start provides, are crucial in mitigating the adverse effects of toxic lead exposure. Flint’s children were exposed to contaminated water by no fault of their own, and I am proud to introduce this bill to help ensure they have the resources and support necessary to lead happy and healthy lives.”
“Every child deserves a chance at a bright future, and the children of Flint are no exception,” said Senator Stabenow. “This legislation will help meet the early education needs of the thousands of children in Flint who are living with lead poisoning.”
“Flint children are the victims in this terrible man-made crisis, and we must ensure that they get resources necessary to mitigate the effects of lead exposure,” Congressman Kildee said. “Getting kids enrolled in Head Start, in addition to other educational, nutritional and developmental resources, will help put them on a path to success going forward. The State of Michigan created this crisis, and it must also make a big commitment to care for Flint kids exposed to lead.”
“In order to help Flint children who are at risk for developmental delays from lead-leached water, we must support and expand Head Start programming to intervene early and minimize any long-term damage,” said Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, Director of Pediatric Resident Education, Hurley Medical Center and Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at Michigan State University College of Human Medicine. “Head Start can provide a critical lifeline to children in Flint, who will need specialized care and services for years to come. I thank Senator Peters, Senator Stabenow and Congressman Kildee for their leadership and commitment to helping our community overcome the impacts of lead exposure.”
The CHILD Act authorizes the Secretary of Health and Human Services to award one-time, non-renewable Head Start and Early Head Start grants for a period of five years. Head Start promotes school readiness for children from birth up to years of age through a variety of resources for low-income children and families. Head Start programming is administered by local public and private nonprofit and for-profit agencies and includes child learning services in reading, math and science; nutritious meals; health and developmental screenings; oral and mental health support; behavioral and special needs services and family services.
Lead exposure has been associated with Attention Deficit Disorder, impulsive behaviors, reduced fine motor skills and speech articulation and a number of other cognitive and developmental issues, but early intervention is key to mitigating these negative effects. According to a report published by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services last year, “research demonstrates that children with developmental delays or at high risk for developmental delays benefit most from interventions that start at an early age.”
Hurley Medical Center has partnered with Michigan State University on a joint Pediatric Public Health initiative to address the lead poisoning of thousands of children in Flint. The initiative, led by a team of experts, is focused on ongoing data collection, monitoring those impacted and working on intervention efforts to prevent long-term consequences.
Earlier this month, Peters joined Senator Stabenow and Congressman Kildee in sending a letter to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) urging that Head Start be made available for every eligible child in the City of Flint.