Head Start and Early Head Start are comprehensive child development programs which serve children from birth to age 5, pregnant women, and their families. They are child-focused programs and have the overall goal of increasing the school readiness of young children in low-income families. The Head Start program is administered by the Head Start Bureau, the Administration on Children, Youth and Families (ACYF), Administration for Children and Families (ACF), Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS)

The Head Start program has a long tradition of delivering comprehensive and high quality services designed to foster healthy development in low-income children. Head Start grantee and delegate agencies provide a range of individualized services in the areas of education and early childhood development; medical, dental, and mental health; nutrition; and parent involvement. In addition, the entire range of Head Start services is responsive and appropriate to each child's and family's developmental, ethnic, cultural, and linguistic heritage and experience. 

All Head Start programs must adhere to Program Performance Standards. The Head Start Program Performance Standards define the services that Head Start Programs are to provide to the children and families they serve. They constitute the expectations and requirements that Head Start grantees must meet. They are designed to ensure that the Head Start goals and objectives are implemented successfully, that the Head Start philosophy continues to thrive, and that all grantee and delegate agencies maintain the highest possible quality in the provision of Head Start services.

In 1994, Congress established a new program for low-income families with infants and toddlers and pregnant women which is called Early Head Start. In creating this program, the Congress acted upon evidence from research and practice which illustrates that early intervention through high quality programs enhances children's physical, social, emotional, and cognitive development; enables parents to be better caregivers and teachers to their children; and helps parents meet their own goals, including economic independence. Such programs answer an undeniable need.

The Early Head Start program provides resources to community programs to address such needs and to achieve the purposes set forth by Congress. The local programs funded through Early Head Start operate as a national laboratory to demonstrate the impact that can be gained when early, continuous, intensive and comprehensive services are provided to pregnant women and very young children and their families.

Programs participating in Early Head Start:

  • Ensure quality by meeting the requirements in the Head Start Program Performance Standards and other applicable regulations;
  • Provide early, individualized child development and parent education services to low-income infants and toddlers and their families according to a plan developed jointly by the parents and staff;
  • Provide these services through an appropriate mix of home visits, experiences at the Early Head Start center, and experiences in other settings such as family or center-based child care;
  • Provide early opportunities for infants and toddlers with and without disabilities to grow and develop together in nurturing and inclusive settings;
  • Ensure that the Early Head Start program is supportive and nurturing of families;
  • Respond to the needs of families, including, where appropriate, the need for full-time child care for working families;
  • Connect with other service providers at the local level to ensure that a comprehensive array of health, nutrition, and other services is provided to the program's pregnant women, very young children, and their families;
  • Recruit, train, and supervise high quality staff to ensure the kind of warm and continuous relationships between caregivers and children that are crucial to learning and development for infants and toddlers;
  • Ensure parent involvement in policy and decision making; and
  • Coordinate with local Head Start and other child development programs in order to ensure continuity of services for these children and families.

For further information about Head Start, contact us at (570) 963-6633 or visit our website at www.headstartslhda.org