Four years ago, Karie faced what most of us would consider insurmountable challenges.
She was homeless. She was unemployed. She had no car.
A bright spot was her daughter—a dark eyed, round-faced, beautiful 4-month-old girl named Raqeall.
“I knew this was not my life alone. I had to fight for my baby,” Karie said.
At four months old, Raqeall was adrift and she had an open wound on her diaper area, the result of a chronic skin condition. She was also doing what is referred to as self-stimulatory behavior – repetitive body movements common in people with developmental disabilities.
Her mom knew something was off.
When Raqeall was 18 months old, Karie was connected to Early Head Start.
“I needed Raqeall’s specific needs to be provided for. I needed her to be safe. I needed her to be cared for,” she explained.
And that is what Early Head Start provided.
Raqeall received a full assessment. She was diagnosed with autism and immediately enrolled in full-day Early Head Start.
Raqeall and Karie went to her first day of Early Head Start on the city bus. When they arrived, Karie ensured Raqeall was settling in with her new teachers and peers and got right back on the bus toward the shelter where she was living.
Walking from the bus stop, Karie heard about a restaurant that was hiring. She walked there, was hired on the spot and four years later continues to work full-time shifts at the eatery.
“Once we got to Head Start, doors opened for me, the world expanded. It freed me to care for us,” she said.
Karie thrived, eventually securing a safe and comfortable home for her and Raqeall. She also became more informed about how best to meet Raqeall’s specific needs. When Raqeall arrived to Head Start, she could not eat solid foods or drink out of a straw, she could not hold a large crayon and she did not make frequent eye contact with others.
“I wanted to know what was going on with her on a daily basis and how to help,” said Karie.
She received daily reports from Early Head Start teachers, and worked closely with them to ensure she followed up at home with the activities and approaches recommended. When things did not work, Karie and the teachers developed new plans together. The Early Head Start program embraced Raqeall’s family, which proved critical to ensuring Raqeall’s success.
Reflecting on her and Raqeall’s first encounters with Early Head Start, Karie said, “I thought places like this—so beautiful and with quality services—were only for the rich, for the elite, but I was treated with respect. I am humbled by this.”
Karie is now an expert advocate for Raqeall, bringing her teachers and caregivers together for the best results. Raqeall now participates in Head Start and also attends a public elementary school where she receives extra support for her developmental needs.
They are an unstoppable team.
Raqeall’s language is developing, she has a sense of humor, she eats foods at a toddler table like the rest of her peers, she uses a straw and cup, she plays, she giggles and she endears adults to her in minutes.
Most importantly, she is ready for the next step this fall – kindergarten!
As they celebrate this transition, Raqeall’s mom explained that her faith, her family and Head Start have made all the difference.
“So much good in my life has branched out from Head Start and what it did for my family,” she said.
You can join Raqeall, her mother and Save the Children Action Network in asking Congress to protect funds for Head Start and Early Head Start.