ECEAP: Strong Foundations, Strong Futures

February 18, 2021
group of hands together

The Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program (ECEAP) is known for supporting children and families while they are enrolled in its early learning and family support program. However, ECEAP’s long-term effects reach well beyond the preschool years for both children and their families.

Unique among state-funded preschool programs, ECEAP provides comprehensive services – family support in addition to education. ECEAP understands the holistic approach of supporting the entire family yields the best results for children. To that end, ECEAP incorporates parent education, family goal-setting, a coaching model that encourages future-oriented thinking. ECEAP also provides support navigating health care systems, social services, and community resources. Some programs also offer scholarships or free college credits, support to get a GED, or professional development and job skills courses. Sometimes this leads to a professional career in early learning.

In Washington State, there are more than 2,000 ECEAP staff working directly with children and families. Currently, approximately 550 of these (26%) are former ECEAP or Head Start parents. Many did not have a college education or even high school diplomas when they enrolled their children, but, with ECEAP’s support, they pursued their education to meet the state-required staff qualifications. This number only includes current ECEAP staff. We know of many former parents who got their start with a job in ECEAP. Many moved on after gaining skills and confidence, either pursuing work in other sectors or continuing in the profession of early learning.

Snohomish County ECEAP employs 22 former ECEAP/Head Start parents. This comprises 10% of the staff. Family Support Specialist Michelle Kjolso currently works at Marysville School District ECEAP, a subcontractor of Snohomish County. She supports ECEAP families with enrollment, home visits, and health services. More than 20 years ago, Michelle set foot in ECEAP as an overwhelmed young mom with her 3-year-old son. She credits ECEAP’s role in helping both her and her son. While he benefited from a fun and engaging early learning curriculum and a classroom community where he gained academic and social skills, Michelle got help she didn’t realize was available. She accessed clothing, booster seats, food, and sometimes even car repair money. She also learned about job opportunities in early learning.

"At the time, I didn't recognize this blessing because I was in the thick of the chaos trying to survive as a young mom working eight hours a day with no money and often a broken down car. When your life is in constant chaos and you are doing everything you can to just make the right decisions for that moment, that hour, that day – it is a blessing to have a program that has your back no matter how big or small the need," said Michelle.

Michelle started working at Marysville ECEAP in 2019. Since then, she has supported many families in the same way she was supported: employing the empathy that can only be gained by sharing similar experiences.

"When I look back now, I realize how much of an impact this program had on our lives and how it enabled me to move forward and build a strong foundation for our future," said Michelle. "Today, my son is 25 years old. He is kind, hardworking, and a college graduate. ECEAP played a large role in his love of learning as well as my ability to have obtained a job here myself helping families just like mine. What a gift it is."

Michelle and Her Son
Michelle and her son: then and now