Head Start Overview
What Head Start Does
Head Start is a federal program that promotes the school readiness of children ages birth to 5 from low-income families by enhancing their cognitive, social, and emotional development.
Head Start programs provide a learning environment that supports children’s growth in:
- language & literacy
- cognition & general knowledge
- physical development & health
- social & emotional development, and
- approaches to learning.
Head Start programs provide comprehensive services to enrolled children and their families, which include health, nutrition, social, and other services determined to be necessary by family needs assessments, in addition to education and cognitive development services. Head Start services are designed to be responsive to each child and family’s ethnic, cultural, and linguistic heritage.
Head Start emphasizes the role of parents as their child’s first and most important teacher. Head Start programs build relationships with families that support:
- family well-being and positive parent-child relationships
- families as learners and lifelong educators
- family engagement in transitions
- family connections to peers and community, and
- families as advocates and leaders.
Head Start Services
Head Start serves preschool-age children and their families. Many Head Start programs also provide Early Head Start, which serves infants, toddlers, pregnant women and their families who have incomes below the federal poverty level.
Head Start programs offer a variety of service models, depending on the needs of the local community. Programs may be based in:
- Centers or schools that children attend for part-day or full-day services
- Family child care homes, and/or
- Children’s own homes, where a staff person visits once a week to provide services to the child and family. Children and families who receive home-based services gather periodically with other enrolled families for a group learning experience facilitated by Head Start staff.
Over a million children are served by Head Start programs every year, including children in every U.S. state and territory and in American Indian and Alaskan Native communities. Since 1965, nearly 30 million low-income children and their families have received these comprehensive services to increase their school readiness.
The Office of Head Start (OHS), within the Administration of Children and Families of the Department of Health and Human Services, awards grants to public and private agencies on a competitive basis to provide these comprehensive services to specific communities. Head Start grantees provide the services as described in the Head Start Performance Standards and in accordance with the Head Start Act of 2007. The Office of Head Start is responsible for oversight of these grantees, to ensure the performance standards are met and the best quality of care is provided to the enrolled children. In addition, some cities, states and federal programs offer funding to expand Head Start and Early Head Start to additional children within their jurisdiction.