Herald-Tribune: Census 2020 – Critical component for Head Start funding

April 13, 2020

A girl swinging on a swing at the playground and giving the peace sign
Teacher and girl in classroom

Children First, the Head Start grantee for Sarasota County, believes it is vitally important that the 2020 Census is as accurate as possible.

Our mission is serving our community’s most economically vulnerable families with very young children, from pregnancy through age 5. We provide high-quality, early-childhood and development-programs and comprehensive family-strengthening services. We help children and families become increasingly independent and successful by strengthening them together.

We recognize our unique role within our community as trusted messengers, and we are using our collective voice to ensure that every person is fully counted in the 2020 Census, leaving no one behind. Our parent-driven Policy Council began the call to action well over a month ago with a special effort to spread the word across our 15 different locations within Sarasota County. Now we are appealing directly to you.

In 2010, it was estimated that about 1% of our county’s population was undercounted in the census. That may not seem like much, but it represents about 4,260 individuals in 2020. Many of those individuals are likely to be children below the age of 4.

The George Washington Institute for Research estimates the Census count to represent $1,000 in funding per person for each year of the 10 years of the decennial. Based on the 2010 count, that would translate into our community losing $42 million in federal support between 2020–2030, with most of those lost dollars supporting children and families. This loss would place immeasurable financial stress on those already most at risk and would have catastrophic impacts on our entire community.

With a waiting list of more than 100 infants and toddlers at Children First, every federal dollar counts when it comes to transforming lives. The ripple effects of an accurate census count will positively impact not only the lives of those babies, but our entire community for generations to come. Low-income families, children with mental-health issues, children with physical disabilities, homeless children and those living in multigenerational households — with, say, grandparents raising grandchildren — all need our help.

In these extraordinary and unprecedented times, our community needs you. Think about the young or vulnerable children in your life. Is it a son, niece, next-door neighbor? To allow a 3-year-old child to go without representation as a member of our community until he or she becomes a teenager is simply unimaginable.

We are asking for your commitment to help us spread the word. Social media is an excellent tool for further communication. A conversation with loved ones can stress the importance of making sure that everyone counts.

We may not know exactly what the future holds, but we do know that for all of the above, an undercount (no matter how small) will result in the loss of tens of millions of dollars in support. The quality of education, health care, nutrition programs, housing and transportation in our community will be directly impacted for generations to come.

Philip Tavill is the President/CEO of Children First, a four-time designated National Head Start Association Program of Excellence (2006–2020).