As the nation’s leading federally funded early learning program, Head Start serves children and families in every state and congressional district in the country with a consistently high level of quality. Head Start serves children 3 to 5 years of age and Early Head Start serves children birth until they turn 3 years old. Head Start’s role in each state differs greatly based on local systems and models.

Purpose: The purpose of Early Head Start programming is to promote healthy prenatal outcomes for pregnant women including follow-up, enhance the development of very young children (infants and toddlers), and promote healthy family functioning.

Programming: Programming is offered for many Early Head Start programs in a child’s own home through weekly home visits that support the child’s development and family’s own goals. Other Early Head Start programs are located in centers which provide part day or full day programming for children. Each recipient  operates based on the grant awarded by the Administration for Children and Families Regional Office which, for Iowa, is located in Kansas City.

Families: Families are valued by Head Start as the first and most important teacher for their child. Programs build relationships with families that support positive parent-child relationships, family well-being, and connections to peers and community. Additionally, Head Start services are designed to be responsive to each child and family's ethnic, cultural and linguistic background. Parents can participate in leadership roles, including families having a say in program operations.

Accessibility: Early Head Start is accessible at no cost to low income families with children ages birth until the child turns 3 years old and ready to transition into Head Start or another preschool program. Families and children experiencing homelessness, and children in the foster care system are also eligible as well as children with disabilities and special needs. Specific eligibility criteria are determined by recipients.

Funding: Head Start recipients are federally funded and locally operated which means funding goes directly from the Office of Head Start to programs. Programs like Head Start, Early Head Start support the development of the whole child through comprehensive services and parent involvement. Comprehensive services are provided in such areas as Education, Health and Nutrition, Family and Social Services.

History: Early Head Start started in 1995. Programming was established to serve children from birth to age three, in an effort to capitalize on research evidence that showed that the first three years are critical to children's long-term development. Head Start originally started in 1965 as a summer program designed to break the cycle of poverty by providing preschool to children of low-income families with a comprehensive program to meet their emotional, social, health, nutritional and psychological needs. The Head Start program was expanded in 1981 when Congress passed the Head Start Act. Early Head Start was added in 1995 and both programs were reauthorized in December 2007.

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History of Head Start

Policy Brief: Early Head Start at 25

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Find an Early Head Start Program

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Head Start Program Performance Standards (HSPPS)

Accountability: Head Start, Early Head Start and Early Head Start-Child Care Partnership recipients providing services to children and families must meet the HSPPS and the requirements set forth in the Head Start Act of 2007. The Office of Head Start also offers direction through Program Instructions and Information Memorandums. More guidance is available to recipients through their federal program specialist.

History: HSPPS were first published in 1975 and the most recent update was in 2016. The HSPPS reflect best practices and the latest research on early childhood development and brain science. They give recipients flexibility in achieving positive child and family outcomes, and encourage the use of data to track progress and reach goals in all program areas.

Exploring the HSPPS

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More Head Start Programs

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