City Head Start Program honored for AIDS work

December 02, 1992|By Ellen J. Silberman | Ellen J. Silberman,States News Service

WASHINGTON -- Three months ago, the young, HIV-infected mother was living on the street and using drugs. Today, she has a home and is about to return to school to become a nurse's aide.

The Baltimore City Head Start Program guided her through that transition, and it will also help pay for her education. Because of that kind of work, the federal government honored the program yesterday as part of National AIDS Awareness Day.

"That's what we're all about, helping families," said Clare Siegel, coordinator of the Baltimore City Head Start Program's HIV project.

In all, 19 programs and individuals were lauded yesterday by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for their work helping AIDS sufferers.

The AIDS Alliance of Howard County and Paul R. Brenner, executive director of the Montgomery [County] Hospice Society in Rockville, also received awards.

Like most of the award-winning programs, Ms. Siegel's is small. The staff of seven serves about 50 HIV-infected children and their families each year. The program is operated with $157,000 in federal Head Start funds and $60,000 from Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.

The human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV, causes AIDS.

Ms. Siegel said her program is also unique.

Though Head Start programs throughout the country teach HIV-infected children alongside kids who are not infected, Ms. Siegel believes her program is the only one that does it with pleasure.

"There are certainly kids being integrated everywhere that nobody knows about, but we openly serve [HIV-infected] children," she said. Her program also provides support services for parents with HIV, ranging from managing their finances to coordinating their health care to prodding them to write wills.

There's also a day care center for infected children who are too young for Head Start.

And unlike other preschools, Ms. Siegel said, caseworkers explain the disease to Head Start parents who aren't infected with HIV. In the six years since the program began, no parent has pulled a child out, saying she was afraid of the disease, Ms. Siegel said.

"A big piece of what we do is educate and try to demystify the whole thing about kids and HIV," she said.

One myth: Children born with HIV die in infancy. Not true, said Ms. Siegel. There are plenty of infected but healthy 3- and 4-year-olds in Baltimore's Head Start program.

"There's a large group of children who are not sick early on. We have children who leave Head Start and go into regular kindergarten."

But not all of the children make it.

"We've lost children in our program. We have mothers that are sick right now that probably aren't going to live through the year," Ms. Siegel said.

For her, the deaths are part of the job, almost.

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