Founded in 1965, the Head Start program offers comprehensive services including early education, nutrition, health, and social services, along with a strong parent involvement focus, to low-income children nationwide. Its overall goal is to bring about a greater degree of social competence, which is defined as a child’s everyday effectiveness in dealing with both his or her present environment and later responsibilities in school and life, taking into account the interrelatedness of cognitive, intellectual, and social development; physical and mental health; and nutritional needs.
Head Start programs are funded through a direct Federal-to-local relationship, and include a wide range of programs that are community based, so they can respond to local needs and coordinate activities with other community agencies. They are guided by a set of Program Performance Standards that specify requirements in each of the functional areas, including disabilities.
The Head Start Bureau within the Administration on Children, Youth and Families (ACYF) in the Administration for Children (ACF), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, (DHHS) has responsibility for oversight and leadership of Head Start programs nationwide. It also funds special initiatives, and develops legislative and budget proposals for programs. Local ACYF oversight is provided by 12 Regional Offices, which conduct compliance reviews of local programs every three years.