Thursday, 28 February 2019

Westside Head Start Helps Bessy and Guillermo Ulloa Manage Unexpected New Role as Caregivers

There are 28,112 Head Start families with grandparents or other relatives as primary caregivers,” according to the National Head Start Association. Guillermo and Bessy Ulloa are two of these unexpected primary caregivers with a child currently in the Catholic Charities Westside Head Start early education program for low-income families. While many would balk at caring for children later in life, the Ulloas view their role as nothing out of the ordinary. “We are not special,” said Guillermo. “It is not hard to love a child.”

The Ulloas represent today’s changing family. Bessy and Guillermo have both been married and divorced, and they each raised their own children, two boys in each family, into happy, healthy and productive adults. When Bessy and Guillermo found each other in 2007 and got married in 2010, they thought they were starting a new chapter in their lives, a chance to do all the things they couldn’t do when raising children. But, as happens in so many families now, grandparents, aunts and uncles become primary caregivers.

Now 8 years old, baby Alicia came to the Ulloas at just 17 months old. A family member designated Bessy as someone who could care for her child when she was removed from the parents by child services. Guillermo and Bessy stepped into their new role as parents when Alicia arrived on their door step with no shoes, no clothes, no diapers or belongings.

“We had to go out and buy everything,” said Guillermo. “She had nothing, not even shoes, when she came.” Living in California at the time in a small, one-bedroom condo, the couple was told by child services that Alicia could stay in a bassinet in their room until she turns three years old, then she would need to have her own crib/bed in her own room. Though both were working full-time, a larger home still wasn’t in the budget in California. So, they packed up and moved with Alicia to Arizona, where Bessy had an aunt.

They enrolled Alicia in Westside Head Start upon the recommendation of children’s services. The couple wanted Alicia to have quality care while they worked, but couldn’t afford day care. Alicia thrived in Head Start, growing into a confident, smart, well-balanced adolescent with the help of her teachers, and the results-oriented Head Start program.

Then the great aunt and great uncle became primary caregivers once again when they were asked to care for another family member, little Aiyana, in 2017. This time, the process was more difficult. Aiyana had been through difficult times as a baby, and arrived with extreme separation anxiety. Child services had agreed to pay for just six weeks of daycare, but after a few weeks, it became clear that Aiyana wasn’t doing well in daycare. The couple sought counseling to help figure out how to handle Aiyana’s needs and enrolled her in Westside Head Start. With dedication and perseverance, Aiyana started to improve.

“It still wasn’t easy, but after we talked with her teachers and explained what she’d been through, they worked with us and she gradually started to get better,” said Bessy. Aiyana is continuing to improve her social, emotional, physical and cognitive skills every day in Head Start.

“She says to us at home now, ‘Make good choices mom,’” said Bessy. “And she knows how to spell her name, knows colors, letters and everything. It’s been good, not easy, but good.”

Guillermo is now on disability and Bessy stays home full-time. The couple decided they wanted to try and get other parents involved in Head Start. “It’s important to be there, to know what is going on, to help them learn at home,” said Guillermo. They started attending regular policy council meetings and volunteering at the El Mirage location. Guillermo has even stepped up to help run the monthly parent committee meetings, which provide parents with updates and information on what their children are learning in class, as well as the latest policy council updates on the overall Westside Head Start program structure, hours and locations.

“The parents need to be involved,” said Guillermo. “I like to bring important issues to their attention. This stuff is important.”

If you are interested in volunteering, or in donating to help support Westside Head Start, visit us at or call 602-285-1999. Head Start is available to low-income families in the west valley.

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