Head Start, because of its size and sustained support and dissemination, would appear to be an attractive vehicle for reaching a large number of disadvantaged parents, but there are questions about the capability of local Head Start agencies to take on more responsibility. Even though Head Start is striving to improve the quality of local agency staff, the overall level of education and experience remains relatively low and turnover can be a problem (consistent with the general experience in early childhood education) (Barnett, 2002; Bryant et al., 1994; Currie and Neidell, 2007; Early et al., 2007; Gallagher and Clifford, 2000; Pai-Samant et al., 2005). Nor are the effects of staff quality on outcomes entirely clear (Currie and Niedell, 2007). Nonetheless, Head Start’s 40 years of durability—a remarkable feat among nonentitlement social programs—makes it a credible target of opportunity for extending the reach of effective depression care.
Beardslee and colleagues (in press-a) have developed an adaptation of programs generally used in Head Start centers called Family Connections. Given that the rate of depression in parents of children attending these centers is high and in one Early Head Start study was 48 percent, Beardlee’s approach is to provide education about depression and work closely in a staff development approach to increase teachers’ competence in dealing with depression and related mental health difficulties in parents and children (Knitzer, Theberge, and Johnson, 2008). This approach was chosen because of the very high rates of depression noted in studies of parents in Head Start and Early Head Start. Given the high prevalence, Head Start and Early Head Start teachers encounter depression daily in the parents of children they deal with and undoubtedly also see the effects of depression in the children (Beardslee et al., in press-a). The core approach was to combine trainings in which all of the staff participated around key issues in mental health, such as how to engage difficult parents, how to build resilience in youngsters, and how to understand depression with onsite consultation over a 3-year period. The central goal of the program was to increase teachers’ self-reflection and shared reflection and their understandings of how to take care of themselves. It also aimed to promote self-reflection and self care in parents. This approach was developed in partnership with Head Start providers in the Boston area, particularly Action for Boston Community Development. Working in a single site over 3 years, the investigators showed that the trainings were well received, as was the consultation model, and that in qualitative interviews with teachers and staff and assessor observation, substantial teacher growth occurred. Through this work, they have advanced the thesis that it is necessary to consider depression’s impact at four levels: the individual level, the family level, the caregiving system level, and the community level. Correspondingly, it is necessary to identify resilience and strength and ways to cope with depression at each of these four levels.