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About Head Start

Head Start is a federal program that promotes the school readiness of children ages birth to five 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 the following domains:

  • language and literacy;
  • cognition and general knowledge;
  • physical development and health;
  • social and 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 has a long-standing commitment to the inclusion of children with disabilities. The Head Start Performance Standards and other regulations assure that children with disabilities and their families are included in the range of comprehensive services and program options available to all families.

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 the following:

  • 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 Alaska Native communities. Since 1965, more than 30 million low-income children and their families have received these comprehensive services to increase their school readiness.

All Head Start programs are administered through the Office of Head Start, a division of the Administration for Children and Families within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Federal dollars are granted directly to public and private providers (called grantees) at the local level to provide Head Start/Early Head Start programming.

Source: Office of Head Start logoEarly Childhood Learning & Knowledge Center (ECLKC)