Parents say program designed to help kids in need prepare for kindergarten failed

CABARRUS COUNTY, N.C. — Parents say a federal program that's supposed to help children in need prepare for kindergarten failed to teach their kids.

Thyais Crisco is a single, working mother of five children who tries to provide the best future for her kids.

Last year, she enrolled her 4-year-old twins in Cabarrus County Head Start, a free program to prepare them for kindergarten.

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She said the program was disorganized and dysfunctional.

"There were a lot of times you'd go into the classroom to sign the kids in and there were no teachers there," said Crisco.

The program was supposed to be five days a week, but some days, Crisco claims, class would be canceled without notice.

"You're stuck trying to arrange child care and get to work on time. It was very stressful," said Crisco.

For the past three years an interim vendor called CDI ran Head Start and received more than $1 million per year in federal funding.

"These kids weren't being served and taxpayers were paying," said Congressman Richard Hudson.

Hudson said the program was plagued with problems, including enrollment discrepancies where CDI claimed more students than the number actually enrolled, hearing and developmental disability tests required by the federal government that were not performed and no individual education programs for the 10 percent of enrolled children who needed them.

"My heart breaks for them. They weren't getting this opportunity. They weren't getting the help they need. They're going to start kindergarten behind," said Hudson.

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Channel 9 tried contacting CDI, but was directed to the U.S. Health and Human Services Administration for Children and Families, which oversees Head Start nationwide.

The agency sent the following statement to Channel 9:

"The Administration for Children and Families (ACF) takes Congressman Hudson’s concerns seriously and has been closely overseeing the operations and following up on his concerns.  We very much appreciate his concern for the care of the children and families in Cabarrus County. And as always, ACF will fully cooperate with any investigation.

The Head Start grant in Cabarrus County has been awarded to Save the Children, who will begin Head Start services for children and families in the fall."

A new vendor called Save the Children will run Head Start in Cabarrus County starting in September.

They're hiring staff to teach 102 3 to 5-year-olds and 16 infants and toddlers.

Hudson, whose mother was a Head Start teacher, told anchor Allison Latos he's optimistic about the changes but wants more action against the previous operators.

He's now calling for an inspector general investigation.

"To me, they're at least negligent. Probably fraud. I want to find answers." he said.

Despite the changes, Crisco decided not to enroll her kids again.

Hudson wants parents to know about the head start overhaul and the efforts to make sure kids in need learn necessary skills for kindergarten.

There will be a community meeting with the national director of Head Start and the new Cabarrus County vendor meeting Thursday, Aug. 1, at 2 p.m. at All Saints Episcopal Church in Concord.