The Head Start Program is a national, community-based program designed to empower low-income families and children with the resources and opportunities needed for educational success. Founded in 1965, Head Start helps to develop the social, emotional, health, and cognitive skills necessary for children to achieve their full potential, as well as providing strong parental engagement and support to their families. The program operates in all fifty states, engaging a nationwide network of local support entities to build upon the capacities and resources of communities seeking to enhance the experiences of their youngest citizens. Local support to families’ Head Start efforts may include a variety of activities, such as advocating for improved resources, launching early literacy initiatives, providing mental health services, and strengthening community ties. This article will discuss the mission, focus, and impact of Head Start Programs, as well as the ways in which local support is essential for the success of these programs.
What is Head Start Programs?
Head Start Programs are community-based initiatives created to provide essential supports to low-income families and children. Originally established in 1965, Head Start was created with the mission of “promoting school readiness by enhancing the social and cognitive development of children through the provision of educational, health, nutritional, and social services.” This early childhood and family development program is designed to capitalize on the special strengths and capacities of children, families, and communities, providing them with the resources and tools needed for educational success.
Head Start Programs provide comprehensive services in a variety of domains, such as health, education, nutrition, and social services. The program works to promote school readiness by providing a safe and healthy learning environment, emotional support, and access to education. Head Start Programs also strive to strengthen parental engagement and to enhance the economic security and stability of participating families. Depending on the local location, Head Start Programs may be organized as school readiness programs, home-based services, center-based care, or even a combination of several approaches.
Focus of Head Start Programs
Head Start Programs have several core competencies and focus areas which provide the foundation of service delivery. The primary goal of Head Start Programs is to promote school readiness in preschool-age children by providing comprehensive developmentally appropriate services. This includes encouraging healthy social and emotional development through activities such as play-based learning experiences, the promotion of positive parenting approaches, the development of early literacy skills, the provision of health and nutrition services, and the support of economic self-sufficiency for participating families.
In addition to providing educational supports, Head Start Programs also strive to identify and address a wide range of social and emotional issues. They offer parenting support, resources for early childhood mental health, and access to other community-based resources. It is also important to note that while Head Start Programs are focused on promoting school readiness in pre-kindergarten children, they may also serve as a catalystic platform for engaging with families as they prepare to enter the K-12 educational system.
Impact of Head Start Programs
Head Start Programs have been providing comprehensive services and supports to low-income families for nearly six decades. While research on the long-term impact of Head Start Programs is limited, the evidence that is available has overwhelmingly demonstrated the beneficial impact of these programs. Specifically, studies have found that children who attend Head Start Programs are more likely to develop language, literacy, math, and social skills than their peers who did not attend. Further, research has also demonstrated that Head Start Programs lead to improved cognitive functioning, academic performance, and economic attainment.
Perhaps the most important finding of the Head Start research has been the positive impacts that these programs have on families. Head Start Programs have been shown to foster strong parent-child relationships and enhance parental engagement. Further, the access to resources and services provided by the program have been found to support the long-term economic self-sufficiency of families.
Local Support to Head Start Programs
Head Start Programs are administered at the local level by community-based organizations, often referred to as “support entities.” These local entities are essential partners in the success of Head Start Programs, as they are responsible for providing the resources and programs needed to meet the unique needs of their communities. Almost all support entities serve as advocates on behalf of the Head Start Program, working to ensure that communities receive the resources and supports necessary for success.
A variety of local support entities provide a variety of services to Head Start Programs, depending on their resources and capabilities. Local support entities may provide direct services, such as providing parent education, health services, early childhood education, and social services. In addition, local support entities may also advocate for improved resources, launch early literacy initiatives, and work to strengthen community ties.
Head Start Programs rely heavily upon the support and resources provided by local support entities. The key to success for these entities is a focus on collaboration and planning. Support entities must partner with community partners and stakeholders who are willing to provide ongoing support, resources, and expertise. By collaborating with a variety of partners (such as school districts, health professionals, government agencies, and other non-profits) local support entities can ensure that their communities are receiving the comprehensive set of services needed for Head Start Programs to be successful.
The Head Start Program has been providing comprehensive services and supports to low-income families for nearly six decades, with the mission of promoting school readiness for preschool-age children. The success of these programs rests upon the resources and expertise provided by local support entities, who are instrumental in developing, implementing, and evaluating initiatives. Local support entities work to provide direct services, advocate for improved resources, launch early literacy initiatives, and strengthen community ties. By forming collaborative partnerships in order to leverage the strengths of the community, Head Start Programs can ensure that families have access to the essential resources and supports needed to promote school readiness and long-term economic self-sufficiency.