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. However, Head Start’s role in each state differs greatly based on local systems and models.

Purpose: The purpose of Head Start programs is to promote the school readiness of children ages 3 to 5 years. Most of these programs are based in centers. In other programs, children and families may receive services from educators and family service staff who regularly make home visits.

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: Head Start is accessible at no cost to children ages birth to age 5 for low-income families. 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: Federally funded and locally operated programs that support the development of the whole child through comprehensive services and parent involvement. Services in such areas as Education, Health and Nutrition, Family and Social Services.

History: Head Start 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 program was expanded in 1981 when Congress passed the Head Start Act. Head Start was reauthorized in December 2007.

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Find a Head Start Program

Connections and Partnerships with Preschool Programming… Head Start recipients around the state collaborate with other quality programming such as Statewide Voluntary Preschool Programs for Four-Year-Old ChildrenShared Visions Preschool Programs, Child Cares serving ages 0-5, and/or Private Preschool programming.

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Head Start Program Performance Standards (HSPPS)

Accountability: Head Start recipients that provide 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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