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Importance of Head Start Programs - Early Childhood Education for Low-Income Families

Updated on April 7, 2011

History of Head Start Programs

Head Start is the most important social and education investment for children, families, and communities that the United States has ever undertaken.  Planning began in the early 1960s when Attorney General Robert Kennedy began working to find a way to stop juvenile delinquency.  Later experts who studied the problem realized that the cause was poverty.  After the assassination of President John Kennedy, President Lyndon Johnson took up the cause of building a "Great Society" by declaring "War on Poverty."

Head Start was launched in 1965 as a comprehensive child development program.  It has provided hope and support to 22 million low-income children and their families across the U.S. over the past 50 years.  Head Start has remained strong even in the face of changing political and fiscal climates because it has continually improved the services it delivers to children and families.  It also responded to the changing needs of local communities.

Head Start was an ideal place to try new childcare and educational approaches.  New legislation was passed to help more children and families.  In 1994 there was a reauthorization of the Head Start Program.  Congress established a new program for low-income families with pregnant women, infants, and toddlers called Early Head Start.  Congress was responding to strong evidence suggesting that early intervention through high quality programs enhances children's development, helps parents become better caregivers and teachers, and helps them meet their own goals including economic independence.

All of these initiatives are aimed at enhancing our nation's ability to achieve it's goal of providing high quality care and education, and enhancing opportunities for all children regardless of income level.


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Benefits of Head Start for Children

Head Start Programs offer a positive influence on a child's development by;

  • Supporting each child's individual pattern of development and learning
  • Providing for the development of cognitive skills by encouraging each child to organize his experiences, to understand concepts, and to develop age appropriate literacy, numeracy, reasoning, problem solving and decision making skills which form a foundation for school readiness and later school success
  • Integrates all educational aspects of the health, nutrition, and mental health services into program activities
  • Ensures that the environment helps children develop emotional security in social relationships
  • Enhances each child's understanding of self as an individual and as a member of a group
  • Provides each child with opportunities for success to help develop feeling of competence, self-esteem, and positive attitudes toward learning


Head Start Service Plans for Children with Disabilities

Head Start Programs must develop a disabilities service plan providing strategies for meeting the special needs of children with disabilities and their parents. 

  • All components of Head Start are appropriately involved in the integration of children with disabilities and their parents
  • Resources are used efficiently
  • The plan must include provisions for children with disabilities to be included in the full range of activities and services normally provided to all children and provisions for any modifications necessary to meet the special needs of the children with disabilities
  • Must have procedures for making referrals to the LEA  for evaluation to determine whether there is a need for special education and related services for a child, as early as the child's third birthday
  • Setting up IEPs with appropriate agencies (Individualized Education Plans)
  • Physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech or language services, psychological services, and/or transportation services for children with disabilities to and from the program and to special clinics or other service providers when the services can not be provided on-site


Benefits of Head Start for Parents/Guardians

Head Start Programs can offer assistance to parents and/or guardians through;

  • Emergency crisis assistance in areas such as food, housing, clothing, and transportation by making referrals to link families to appropriate services, and to support families during crisis periods
  • Education and other appropriate interventions including opportunities for parents to participate in counseling programs or to receive information on mental health issues that place families at risk, such as substance abuse, child abuse and neglect, and domestic violence
  • Opportunities for continuing education and employment training and other employment services through formal and informal networks in the community
  • Parental involvement in child development and education
  • Increasing family access to materials, services, and activities essential to family literacy development and in assisting parents as adult learners to recognize and address their own literacy goals
  • Assisting parents in understanding how to enroll and participate in a system of ongoing family health care
  • Nutrition education in the selection and preparation of foods to meet family needs and in the management of food budgets



Benefits of Head Start for the Surrounding Communities

 Head Start Programs work hand-in-hand with community agencies by;

  • Developing formal and informal networks of contacts with the representatives of a wide variety of community organizations
  • Involving families as active partners in the community planning process
  • Taking affirmative steps to establish ongoing collaborative relationships with community organizations to promote the access of children and families to community services that are responsive to their needs and to ensure that Head Start Programs respond to community needs



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    • JillKostow profile image

      Jill Kostowskie 6 years ago from Pennsylvania

      Simone - Thanks! They are very beneficial to young children, especially those of low-income families.

    • Simone Smith profile image

      Simone Haruko Smith 6 years ago from San Francisco

      Head Start Programs really are vital- I'm so glad you created this Hub!