Celebrating Cultural and Linguistic Diversity in Head Start, 1993-1996

In 1993, the Administration on Children, Youth and Families (ACYF) commissioned this investigation to study the diversity in language and culture of the Head Start population and to identify the range of services provided to this population. The objectives of the Celebrating Cultural and Linguistic Diversity in Head Start study were:

  1. To describe the Head Start population, including the cultural and linguistic groups served and their distribution.
  2. To describe what services program have developed (i.e., classroom curricula, parent involvement components, staff training, etc.) to address the unique service needs of children and families from diverse linguistic and cultural backgrounds.
  3. To describe barriers faced by Head Start programs as they address the needs of an increasingly diverse population.

Study Findings

Highlights of the findings include:

  • The children and families served by Head Start are diverse in culture and language. The programs surveyed listed over 140 languages spoken by Head Start children. In addition, the percentage of minority children and non-English speaking households increased from 1993 to 1999. The numbers of minority children increased between from 67% in 1993 to almost 70% in 1999, reflecting an increase of 104,291 children. The percent of non-English speaking households rose from approximately 21% in 1993 to approximately 24% in 1999.
  • Surveyed programs reported that they were modifying their recruitment strategies in order to reach an increasingly diverse population.
  • Survey data demonstrate that, nationwide, Head Start staff generally reflected the ethnicity of the children and families they served.
  • Classroom observations found that multicultural materials and activities are plentiful.
  • Parents reported that they were pleased with program attempts to respond to the linguistic and cultural uniqueness of their children.
  • Parents make substantial cultural contributions to their children’s classroom. Parents were particularly helpful when they provided translation, offered assistance on how to integrate different cultures into the classroom, or shared foods, stories, dances, and songs.
  • Head Start provides many services to parents, including life skills classes and educational opportunities. Some programs also offer English as a Second Language (ESL) and literacy training for parents. Staff in centers providing ESL reported these classes were the most important service offered to parents.
  • Some Head Start programs reported difficulties finding and coordinating with health service providers who spoke the families’ home languages. This problem was particularly acute when the child needed specialized services for a suspected or diagnosed disability.

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