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Partnering with LGBT families in Early Head Start and Head Start

Early Childhood, Families, Head Start

Photo of a baby's face laying in a crib.By Angie Godfrey, Office of Head Start, Program Specialist

Last month the Early Head Start National Resource Center hosted a conversation with key stakeholders to explore how lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) families are being served by Early Head Start programs. 

The conversation also provided a platform to inform federal staff and training and technical assistance providers about the realities LGBT families face and the challenges programs face in working with LGBT families. Stakeholders included program and parent representatives, federal staff, Head Start training and technical assistance representatives, and experts from the LGBT community.

We unpacked the acronym “LGBT” and discussed gender identity and expression for adults and in the context of child development. We explored pronouns, terms and respectful ways of interacting with LGBT families that avoid making assumptions about people and how they identify themselves. We talked about the ways that LGBT people create families through adoption; prior relationships, advanced reproductive technology, blended families, and transgendered parents who are either pre or post transition. 

As a group we came to understand that LGBT families are a very diverse group. According to a recent report they live in 93 percent of all counties in the United States. LGBT families are more racially and ethnically diverse and more likely to struggle financially than families headed by opposite sex couples. There is a higher tax burden on LGBT families and a lack of safety net programs and health insurance coverage for same sex couples.

LGBT families raise their children in many states where there is a lack of legal recognition of the parents’ relationship and both parents’ relationships with their children. As a result, they often face obstacles in caring for sick partners and family members, and they may face hostility in schools and communities.

Given some of these challenges for LGBT families, what do welcoming Head Start/Early Head Start programs look like?

The group brainstormed ideas of what a welcoming program looks like. And some of the characteristics of welcoming programs include:

  • Welcoming symbols for LGBT families such as  the rainbow flag or equality stickers, and diverse images of parents and families in marketing materials
  • Inclusive intake and enrollment forms that are not specific about the gender of parents and caregivers
  • Partnerships with organizations that help LGBT families get information and support that they need

The group agreed that to fully engage LGBT families, programs must be welcoming and nurturing from the very first interactions. Building relationships with families through a trusting environment will ensure that LGBT families feel welcomed and respected, and can begin to trust that they are included, that their children will be safe to learn and grow, and that their families will be accepted, which is the central to the mission of Early Head Start/Head Start.

"I would like to tell parents that Early Head Start and Head Start [programs] support all kinds of families no matter what their sexual orientation is," said Kimberly Phillips, Early Head Start parent from Children's Home Society of Florida. "They make families feel safe and go above and beyond to expand [and improve] the program."

"The meeting was so insightful [for me] as a parent.  It felt awesome to know there are other people fighting for the best for all children," said Tamara Green, Early Head Start parent from the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. "[I want] other families to know that Early Head Start and Head Start are doing everything they can to make everyone feel welcomed and wanted!"

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.

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