Office of Head Start

Head Start and Early Head Start (HS/EHS), including Early Head Start-Child Care Partnerships (EHS-CCP), programs prepare America’s most vulnerable young children to succeed in school and in life. HS/EHS programs promote school readiness of children ages birth to 5 for families with incomes at or below federal poverty. The Head Start Program Performance Standards (HSPPS) reflect best practices and the latest research on early childhood development and brain science. Programs deliver services to infants, toddlers, and preschool aged children and their families in areas of early learning, health, and family well-being while engaging parents as partners every step of the way in a two-generational approach.

HS/EHS is delivered through direct grant funding from the federal government to 1,700 agencies in local communities, providing services to over a million children every year, in every U.S. state and territory, in farmworker camps, and in over 155 tribal communities. Grantees are required to conduct a community-wide strategic planning and needs assessment that provides a starting point for understanding community strengths and identifying gaps in services. Community assessment is the initial focus on external factors for new and existing programs, ensuring they are providing the right services to the right population.

HS programming is delivered in center-based schools, family child care, and home-based options. More than 80 percent of children served by HS programs are 3- and 4-year olds. EHS serves infants, toddlers, and pregnant women, which makes up under 20 percent of HS enrollment. EHS programs are available until the child turns 3 years old and is ready to transition into HS or another pre-kindergarten program. HS/EHS programs promote the full and effective participation of children who are dual language learners (DLLs) and their families and provide services to over 308,000 children who speak a language other than English at home.

HS/EHS programs support children’s growth and development in a positive learning environment through a variety of comprehensive services, which include the following:

  • Early learning: Programs foster children’s readiness for school through individualized learning by providing developmentally, culturally, linguistically appropriate learning experiences. Through relationships with adults, play, and planned and spontaneous instruction, children grow in many aspects of development. Children progress in social and emotional well-being, along with language and literacy learning, and concept development.
  • Health: Programs support each child’s perceptual, motor, and physical development, which enables them to fully explore and function in their environment. All children receive health and development screenings, nutritious meals, and oral health and mental health support. Programs connect families with medical, dental, and mental health services to ensure that children are receiving the services.
  • Family well-being: Family well-being focuses on parents and families achieving their own goals such as housing stability, continued education, and financial security. Programs support and strengthen parent-child relationships and engage families around children’s learning and development.

Partnership Opportunities

More than 320,000 children and their families transition from HS programs to kindergarten every year. When programs, families, and communities partner to foster a smooth transition, children and families are more likely to enter kindergarten ready to engage and succeed in school. OHS has developed a variety of resources for evidence-based practices that support strong transitions to kindergarten and long-term school success for both HS programs and public schools.

The OHS and HS/EHS programs have always supported and prioritized families with housing instability. In 2019, OHS began providing additional attention and support for children and families experiencing homelessness through the Home at Head Start (#HomeAtHeadStart) national campaign, with a goal of filling 10,000 empty slots with 10,000 homeless children. There is an interactive learning series intended for professionals in HS/EHS, and child care, including school-age child care providers, Child Care and Development Fund (CCDF) Lead Agency or designated entity staff, and others to learn how to identify families experiencing homelessness, conduct community outreach, and much more.

The FY 2020 budget provides additional funding for HS/EHS, which offers other partnership opportunities, such as:

  • Increase of $250 million for quality improvement funding for OHS grantees to invest in activities that will support HS children and families impacted by trauma. Grantees can apply for additional funding to incorporate trauma-informed approaches into their programs, including a prioritization on addressing the rise of adverse childhood experiences attributable to increase prevalence of substance use, economic hardship, home and community violence, and other traumatic experiences.
  • Increase of $100 million for the expansion of EHS-CCP grants that continue to prioritize equally EHS Expansion and EHS-CCP, as determined by the needs of the communities.

General information about OHS.

Technical assistance resources Visit disclaimer page .

Contact the State Head Start Collaboration Office Visit disclaimer page .

Locate a HS program, visit the Head Start Center Locator Visit disclaimer page .

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