Early Head Start is a comprehensive, two-generation federal initiative begun in 1995 and aimed at enhancing the development of infants and toddlers while strengthening families. Designed for low-income pregnant women and for families with infants and toddlers 3 years of age or younger, Early Head Start programs, like preschool Head Start programs, must comply with the Head Start Program Performance Standards—a set of rigorous criteria that are based on best practices identified by a wide range of practitioners and researchers (Administration for Children and Families [ACF] 1996).
As is the case with Head Start, research with a focus on continuous program improvement has been incorporated into Early Head Start from the beginning. When the program began, Congress mandated a rigorous evaluation—the Early Head Start Research and Evaluation Project (EHSREP)—designed to include an implementation study and an impact study to inform program improvement and to assess the program’s effects on child and family outcomes. Following that study, ACF is embarking on a series of descriptive studies about Early Head Start. Rapid expansion of the program during the past decade has increased the importance of this research. This report contains information from the Survey of Early Head Start Programs—the first step of this descriptive research. Beyond the need for an updated picture of the Early Head Start program, the Survey of Early Head Start Programs was designed to build on the earlier impact and implementation studies to provide information to support program improvement in Early Head Start.