Migrant and Seasonal Head Start Parents' Well-Being

Publication Date: December 11, 2019
Cover of Migrant and Seasonal Head Start Parents’ Well-being

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  • Published: 2020


Research Questions

  1. Are MSHS parents experiencing stressors and symptoms of depression?
  2. What are MSHS parents’ sources of strength?
  3. How do MSHS programs support parents’ well-being?

Migrant and Seasonal Head Start (MSHS) programs provide child development, family support, and family engagement services to young children and their migrant and seasonal farmworker families. MSHS programs are designed to meet the unique needs of migrant and seasonally working families. MSHS programs usually provide bilingual services and sometimes operate in non-standard hours or in varying locations throughout the agricultural season.

This brief provides a glimpse into the well-being of parents in Migrant and Seasonal Head Start (MSHS) programs.

In particular, this brief highlights findings from the Migrant and Seasonal Head Start (MSHS) Study 2017 on parents’ stress, depressive symptoms, and sources of strength.


The purpose of the brief is to describe MSHS parents’ stress, depressive symptoms, and sources of strength.

Key Findings and Highlights

  • Many MSHS parents report experiencing stressors that include being away from family members, worrying about their children’s education, migrating to the U.S., and finding a job. 
  • Nearly all parents also report sources of strength in their lives such as a dedication to their children’s futures, their faith, their partner or spouse, and the belief that working hard will lead to a better life.   
  • While almost three-fourths of MSHS parents report no or few depressive symptoms, most MSHS Program Directors are somewhat or greatly concerned about parents’ behavioral and mental health. 
  • Nearly all MSHS Center Directors report that their staff received training in the prior year to address mental health. 
  • Some parents report that MSHS helped them find mental health or substance abuse assistance.
  • More than a quarter of MSHS program directors say there is a great need for more collaboration with mental health providers. 


The Migrant and Seasonal Head Start (MSHS) Study 2017 provides a national picture of MSHS programs, centers, families, and children. The MSHS Study was designed through extensive engagement and input from the MSHS community to better understand:

  • characteristics of MSHS programs, centers, staff, families, and children;
  • services that MSHS provides;
  • instructional practices in MSHS classrooms; and
  • MSHS supports for child, parent, and family well-being.

This brief highlights selected MSHS Study findings collected from surveys of program directors, center directors, and interviews with parents. The MSHS Study was conducted by Abt Associates in partnership with Catholic University of America and Westat. For additional information visit: /opre/research/project/migrant-and-seasonal-he....


Understanding the well-being of MSHS parents may inform assessment and tailoring of services to address family needs, strengths, and resources. The information in this brief may be important for MSHS programs to consider as they identify the best ways to serve their local children, families, and communities.


Gatewood, A.K. (2019). Migrant and Seasonal Head Start Parents’ Well-being, OPRE Report #2019-101, Washington, DC: Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

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