A Reflection on 25 Years of Early Head Start at the Health Federation of Philadelphia

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By: Khadijah Muhammad, MSEd, MSW, Director, Early Head Start

Celebrations and acknowledgements are important to keep us connected and feeling hopeful especially during these times. In 2022, Health Federation of Philadelphia (HFP) is celebrating 25 years of providing family-centered services to pregnant women, infants, and toddlers through the Early Head Start (EHS) program. 

Early Head Start is a federally funded program that serves infants and toddlers under the age of 3, and pregnant women. EHS programs provide intensive comprehensive child development and family support services to low-income infants and toddlers and their families, and to pregnant women and their families. EHS programs are designed to nurture healthy attachments between parent and child (and child and caregiver). Services encompass the full range of a family's needs from pregnancy through a child's third birthday.

HFP became an EHS grantee in 1997. I started as the Director of the EHS program in 2002. During my tenure we have experienced growth of our staffing, the funded enrollment and our Service Area. When I started as the Director there were 13 staff members with a funded enrollment of 75 and a Service Area of  3 zip codes. Currently, there are 31 staff positions with a funded enrollment of 183 and a Service Area of 9 zip codes in Philadelphia.

This expansion allowed us to move our community-based office 3 times. From our Broad Street community site to a space on 8th and Girard Avenue that was larger and more accessible to our Service Area, to our current location at 100 W Oxford Stree, a state of the art facility that has a fitness center, conference rooms and off-street parking! 

In 2020 when the pandemic caused the world to shut down, we didn’t. Instead we continued to provide services to the enrolled children and families by implementing a virtual and remote service delivery plan.  We knew it was important to remain connected to the children and families as we faced the uncertainty of the public health crisis. This connection was maintained by conducting virtual home visits, virtual group sessions with children and their parents as well as parenting groups. These groups became valuable for parents and staff to have a forum to share feelings about the pandemic and to be a support network for one another.  Additionally, we connected families to crucial community resources such as food pantries, health services, including testing, vaccinations and education to combat COVID as well as to address the families’ other social service needs.

The past 25 years of providing Early Head Start services has made a significant difference in the lives of children, parents, staff and the Philadelphia community. And, while we take time to look back to celebrate what we have accomplished, we are also looking forward to continuing our efforts to meet the needs of parents so they can meet the needs of their children.