Survey finds high rates of physical, mental health problems among Head Start workers

    Head Start, the federally funded preschool program for low-income children, has recently come under some criticism for not providing consistent or long-lasting results.

    A new study published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests that, maybe, it’s time to pay attention to the health of those who work for Head Start.

    More than 2,000 Head Start staffers in Pennsylvania participated in a survey about their physical and mental health. Almost all of them were women; most of them were white, ranging in age from 18 to over 60. 

    Lead researcher Robert Whitaker, a professor of public health and pediatrics at Temple University, said they were asked about mental and physical health, with a focus on six conditions.

    “Obesity, asthma, high blood pressure, diabetes, migraine headache, and low back pain,” he said.

    Whitaker then compared the survey’s results with statistics from federal health surveys.

    “Each of these six conditions was between 19 percent and 35 percent more common in Head Start staff than in comparable U.S. population,” he said. “We asked about depression, and almost one in four reported that they were suffering from significant depressive symptoms.”

    That rate is also higher among Head Start staff.

    Staff also reported that their jobs were very stressful. “Things ranging from managing children with very disruptive behaviors in the classroom, to completing large amounts of paperwork,” he said.

    Many survey participants said they completed paperwork at night, at home.

    Whitaker, who said many staffers also mentioned having to hold second jobs because of low pay, said  results of the survey are reason for concern.

    “Some of these health conditions, especially depressive symptoms, might be interfering with the program reaching some of its stated goals,” he said.

    Whitaker suggested making wellness plans part of the Head Start work environment, or providing mental health resources that are available to families in the program to staffers as well.

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