Head Start Programs

Head Start programs promote the school readiness of infants, toddlers, and preschool-aged children from low-income families. Services are provided in a variety of settings including centers, family child care, and children’s own home. Head Start programs also engage parents or other key family members in positive relationships, with a focus on family wellbeing. Parents participate in leadership roles, including having a say in program operations.

Head Start programs support children's growth in a positive learning environment through a variety of services, which include:

  • Early learning and development: Children's readiness for school and beyond is fostered through individualized learning experiences. Through relationships with adults, play, and planned and spontaneous instruction, children grow in many aspects of development. These include social skills, emotional well-being, language and literacy skills, mathematics, and science concepts. Early learning experiences also include the cultural and language heritage of each child and family in relevant ways. Parents, including grandparents, foster parents, and other primary caregivers, are recognized as children’s first and most influential teachers. Their knowledge of their children is central to each child’s individualized approach. Additionally, Head Start programs work with families, school districts and other entities to facilitate a smooth transition to kindergarten for each child.
  • Health: Health and physical development are crucial for early learning opportunities that require children to fully explore and experience their environment. Head Start programs provide safe and healthy learning experiences indoors and outdoors.All children receive health screenings and nutritious meals, and programs connect families with medical, dental, and mental health services to ensure children are receiving the care and attention they need. Children receive support for building resiliency to cope with possible adverse effects of trauma. Families also receive mental health consultation focused on each child's needs.
  • Family well-being: Parents and families are offered program services to support family well-being and to achieve family goals, such as housing stability, continued education, and financial security. Programs support and strengthen parent-child relationships and engage families in the learning and development of their child.

Head Start programs are available at no cost to children ages birth to 5 from low-income families. Programs may provide transportation to the centers so enrolled children can participate regularly. Families and children experiencing homelessness, and children in the foster care system are also eligible. Additionally, Head Start services are available to children with disabilities and other special needs. 

Head Start programs deliver services through 1,600 agencies in local communities. Most Head Start programs are run by non-profit organizations, schools, and community action agencies. They provide services to more than a million children every year, in every U.S. state and territory.“Head Start” includes several different program types reflecting the needs of specific populations within the community. These include:

  • Head Start

    Head Start programs promote the school readiness of children ages 3 to 5. 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.

  • Early Head Start (EHS)

    Infants, toddlers, and pregnant women are served through Early Head Start programs. Early Head Start programs are available to the family until the child turns 3 years old and is ready to transition into Head Start or another pre-K program. Services to pregnant mothers and families, including prenatal support and follow-up, are also provided by Early Head Start. Many Early Head Start programs are provided 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. Early Head Start-Child Care Partnerships are programs that are dedicated to offering Early Head Start services to eligible families within the childcare system.

  • American Indian and Alaska Native (AIAN) Head Start

    Head Start programs were launched in 34 AIAN communities in the summer of 1965. Today, nearly 41,000 children of AIAN heritage are served in both AIAN and non-tribal programs. Head Start and Early Head Start programs honor the rich cultural heritage of our AIAN children, families, and communities. Based on the needs of local communities, programs offer traditional language and cultural practices to provide high-quality services to young children and their families.

  • Migrant and Seasonal Head Start (MSHS)

    Migrant and Seasonal programs provide specific services to children whose families are engaged in agricultural labor. MSHS programs work with both migrant farmworker families, who migrate to a number of geographic locations annually, and with seasonal farmworker families who are permanently settled in their communities but continue to do agricultural work. MSHS programs have served children from birth to age 5 since its inception in 1967 and are currently funded to serve over 30,000 children.

Head Start programs deliver services through 1,600 agencies in local communities. Most Head Start programs are run by non-profit organizations, schools, and community action agencies. They provide services to more than a million children every year, in every U.S. state and territory.

Head Start Locations Visit disclaimer page

Use the Head Start Locator to find a Head Start program.

Apply for Services

Learn more about how to apply to a Head Start program and enroll your child.

Interim Head Start Services

In communities throughout the country where the local Head Start or Early Head Start program can no longer operate, the Office of Head Start (OHS) Interim Management provides Head Start services.

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