Early Head Start is a program available nationwide that is federally-funded and community-based. This program is available to low income families who may have infants, toddlers, or women who are currently pregnant.
The main focus of the program is to promote healthy prenatal outcomes for women, enhance development in young children and promote healthy family functioning. Head Start has a long history of providing service to toddlers and infants through parent and child centers, comprehensive child development centers and various other family support efforts.
Early Head Start was designed in 1994 by and advisory committee formed by the Secretary of Health and Human Services. The principles of Early Head Start are the foundation of the program.
Here are the nine principles of Early Head Start.
High Quality: Early Head Start has a commitment to high quality programs that will embrace infant and toddler development.
Prevention and Promotion: Healthy child development begins before the child is ever conceived. Healthy development is promoted as soon as possible and continued throughout the early years of a child’s life.
Positive Relationships and Continuity: Positive relationships between the child, family and staff with emphasis on the parent-child relationship are focused on as a high quality part of the program and essential in the life of the child.
Parent Involvement: Early Head Start values including parents in every level of activities. The program makes an effort to support the role of fathers in parental responsibilities and involves parents in policy roles.
Inclusion: Programs include children with disabilities and children are responded to in a way that builds up their individual strengths.
Culture: Culture is very important and the home culture and language will be supported as an important part of identity formation for the children.
Comprehensiveness, Flexibility, Responsiveness and Intensity: Families are believed to be able to identify their own strengths, needs, set their own goals and that all families are able to grow.
Transitions: The goal of the programs is to provide a smooth transition from the Early Head Start to the Head Start program for children and their families. This transition is an instrumental part of providing children and families with the healthy family development support they need.
Collaboration: Working with local community agencies and service providers will maximize all available resources for families. Early Head Start realizes that it will take more than one program to meet the needs of a child and their family.
There are many benefits to those working with the Head Start Program. In a study conducted by Mathematica Policy Research and Columbia University’s Center for Children and Families, three-year-old children in the Early Head Start Program were found to perform better in language, social-emotional development and in cognitive areas than random control groups. Early Head Start children were also less likely to score in the at-risk range of developmental functioning in these areas.
The eligibility requirements for utilizing the Early Head Start Program depend on the family household income through the federal poverty guidelines.
To see if you are eligible, contact the Early Head Start Program in your area.