Following complaints that the Detroit Human Services Department fostered an environment of nepotism, reckless spending and corruption to the detriment of the early childhood education program Head Start, the federal government plans to stop sending $50 million a year to the city to fund the program, the Free Press learned Thursday.
Mayor Dave Bing’s office supports the idea and agreed to drop the city’s handling of the program.
“Mayor Bing’s administration has decided that it is in the best interest of the residents if DHS does not apply for Head Start funds,” Loretta Davis, group executive of the city’s health and human services, said Thursday. “This decision is based on the administration’s belief that some programs operate more efficiently outside of city government.”
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services will seek applicants from other governments and nonprofits to take over administering the Head Start money, which is used to help children of lower-income families prepare for school.
The local program has been the subject of much criticism, including long waiting lists, dirty and dangerous classrooms and no-bid contracts.
“It’s a big mess,” said Aries Davis, a member of the Detroit Head Start Policy Committee, which is charged with overseeing program spending. “No one has been accountable to anyone. Since we aren’t seeing any progress, I’m happy that the city is losing the money. Someone else needs to run Head Start.”
Health and Human Services, which delivers the funding, pledged to ensure Detroiters aren’t affected by the change.
“The Office of Head Start at HHS is committed to making sure the children of Detroit and their families receive uninterrupted services during this period of transition,” HHS spokesman Kenneth Wolfe said Thursday. “In the coming year, we will be working to ensure both continuity and quality for the children and families of Detroit.”
The action is the latest against the Human Services Department, which has been under a state and federal investigation since last year when the Free Press published a series of stories detailing the mismanagement at the cash-strapped agency.
Bing’s administration, saying the city’s DHS is ill-equipped to properly handle other money, also relinquished control of grant money for weatherization and anti-poverty programs.
The city currently sends the HHS money to delegate Head Start agencies that have classrooms in churches and schools throughout Detroit.