Nita Norphlet-Thompson, Executive Director of the Mississippi Head Start Association (MHSA), knows first-hand the impact the census can have on vital funding for Mississippians. Her knowledge and passion have inspired Head Start in Mississippi to help make sure thousands more Mississippians are counted in the 2020 census.
Earlier in Norphlet-Thompson’s career when working as a training and technical assistance specialist with the Chapel Hill Outreach Project (RAP) in Jackson, she listened as then Head Start director, the late Billy J. McCain, shared his experience preparing the Bolivar County Community Action Agency Head Start Federal funding application.
That application documented the actual number of children his agency was serving every day. But when the application was evaluated, federal decision makers disputed the number of children served in Bolivar County. Nita, along with the thirty other Head Start directors hearing the story, was perplexed. She remembers it as if it was yesterday because it made such an impression on her.
“We listened as McCain told about his conversation with the evaluators, ‘but this is how many children we serve. We see them every day,’” she remembers him saying.
But the evaluators answered, “You can’t have that many children. This is how many the last census says you have.”
That answer led to a huge reduction in enrollment and opportunities in Bolivar County that year because not everyone had been counted in the previous census. Ever since, Head Start has been passionate about the census and its impact.
“There are seventeen Head Start / Early Head Start programs throughout Mississippi with 200 centers serving approximately 24,000 children and families,” Norphlet-Thompson said. “All centers, with the exception of those located in schools, are licensed by the state, and all must adhere to over 1500 federal Head Start Program Performance Standards.”
After a recent training by a marketing and outreach team from the Mississippi Complete Count Committee, MHSA took it upon themselves to set a plan into action for Mississippi’s Head Start locations to play a vital role in this year’s Census — reaching out to families with children in Head Start, particularly in areas with the lowest response rates to-date.
“I am happy to report that the plan is working even better than I ever imagined,” says Norphlet-Thompson. “Our Directors and Family Advocates have responded incredibly. We have now assisted in the completion of 8,678 U.S. Census forms, and our goal is to reach 10,000 in the coming weeks!”
Norphlet-Thompson focused the MHSA’s efforts on hard-to-count areas first.
“Our goal was to reach out to as many families as possible with the given time and manpower. We targeted counties that had a 40% or lower response rate to the 2020 census at that point in time,” she added. “We identified 17 counties with such response rates: Amite, Calhoun, Carroll, Franklin, Greene, Issaquena, Jefferson, Lafayette, Lawrence, Noxubee, Perry, Quitman, Sharkey, Smith, Tallahatchie, Tunica, and Wilkerson.”
Adding to the challenge was that COVID-19 was restricting the ways in which the Family Advocates could stay in touch with families.
“Under normal circumstances, we make home visits, talk with parents when we pick up and drop off children, see families in the centers, and conduct parent-teacher conferences,” Norphlet-Thompson said. “We utilized technology and now maintain contact through phone or video calls, email, and other means to make sure that these children and their families are given the consistent attention and support they need.”
Since consistent contact is a foundational principle for Head Start, encouraging families to complete their 2020 U.S. Census was a logical extension of that work. Norphlet-Thompson emphasized that Head Start always makes efforts to work with campaigns that will improve the quality of care for children and families in our state. Internet connectivity problems are persistent in parts of the state, but where that is a problem, they used the phone more frequently.
“Right now, most of our daily education is virtual. Teachers send resource packs with activities. They call parents themselves and have conversations about their child’s progress, making sure that they’re always working on their set goals and mastering new skills,” she said.
“There is a direct connection between the census and resources for your family, your community, and your state. I don’t think a lot of people connect the two,” she said.
As a call to action, Norphlet-Thompson added, “We are also asking our families to in-turn encourage everyone in their immediate circles – family, friends, neighbors to complete the census. Let them know that YOU completed your 2020 U.S. Census.”
She also encourages Mississippians to take the time to visit their own local Head Start centers and volunteer their time in any way possible once quarantine is over.
In 2010, Mississippi ranked last among all states in census omission rates. An estimated 265,000 Mississippians were not counted. This represents about $13.2 billion in funding that Mississippi did not get. But the state is outpacing its 2010 response rate.
“As of June 16, Mississippi is at a 56.6% self-response rate. This is just 4.7 percentage points below the final 2010 self-response rate of 61.3%,” said former State Senator Giles Ward, Chairman of the Mississippi Complete Count Committee. “And even better news is that we now have until October 31 to far exceed this number. Every person we count represents a large dollar amount to the state, so we will keep pushing until the last day.”
“We are so appreciative of this significant contribution that Mississippi’s Head Start organizations are making for all Mississippians,” added Ward. “We are all working together to get everyone counted.”
The Mississippi Census Complete Count Committee has developed a comprehensive website at mscensus2020.orgthat contains valuable information, resources, and a blue button right on the home page to complete the census online. The site also has a page to view current response rates. Data can be viewed by state, county, and city. If you have an idea on how you or your organization can help, email the Mississippi Census firstname.lastname@example.org or call 601-345-1420. To see current response rates and learn more about Mississippi’s efforts in the 2020 census, visit https://mscensus2020.org/
Have you taken the time to complete your 2020 U.S. Census? It only takes 10 minutes to answer 10 questions for 10 years of increased federal funding for Mississippi! You can complete the census online, over the phone at 844-330-2020, or through the mail. The deadline this year has been extended until October 31, 2020, but the committee is urging all Mississippians to fill it out well ahead of the deadline.