Head Start and Early Head Start
The main goal of all Head Start programs is to increase the social competence of children in low-income families and children with disabilities and help them to reach their full potential in school and in life.
Head Start programs promote school readiness by enhancing the social and cognitive development of children through the provision of educational, health, nutritional, social and other services for enrolled children and families. They engage parents in their children’s learning and help them in making progress toward their educational, literacy and employment goals. Significant emphasis is placed on the involvement of parents in the administration of local Head Start programs. Parents are seen as their children’s first and most important teacher.
Services and Experiences Head Start Programs Provide (children 3 to 5 years old)
- Nurturing environment that supports each child develop to his or her full potential
- Individualization in teacher lesson planning
- Evidence and research based curriculum
- Inclusion of children with special needs
- Literacy activities for children and parents
- Medical, dental, vision, and hearing screening and treatment by local providers
- Nutrition services (meals and counseling when needed)
- Health education
- Mental health screening and referrals
- Assistance in establishing a medical and dental home for the family
- Family engagement
- Links to community resources
- Family goal setting
- Leadership opportunities through parent policy council involvement
- Parent education programs
- Advocacy skills
- Support during transitions from Head Start to public school
Early Head Start
Early Head Start is a year-round program that provides services for pregnant women and for children from birth through age three and their families. Early Head Start children and their families receive:
- High-quality early childhood education in a warm and nurturing relationship-based environment
- Parent education and engagement
- Health and mental health services or referrals , including prenatal education
- Nutrition education
- Family support services
Categorical and Income Eligibility
There are two primary kinds of eligibility for Head Start: categorical eligibility and income eligibility.
A child from birth to age five or a pregnant woman is categorically eligible for Head Start (child aged 3-5) or Early Head Start (child aged 0-3, or a pregnant woman) if:
- in foster care,
- or a recipient of public assistance (TANF or SSI).
Grantees are not required to verify family income (pay stubs, W-2s or the like) for those categorically eligible for Head Start. However, the grantee must verify that the child/woman is either homeless, in foster care, or in a family that is receiving public assistance.
Grantees are required to retain a record of the documents reviewed and relied upon to determine that a child/woman is categorically eligible accompanied by a signed statement of an employee of the Head Start grantee that the child/woman was found to be eligible.
A child from birth to age five or a pregnant woman is income eligible for Head Start (child aged 3-5) or Early Head Start (child aged 0-3, or a pregnant woman) if the family income is determined to be below the income figures published annually by the federal government as the Poverty Guidelines.
Income eligibility guidelines are established for participation Head Start programs based on the poverty guidelines updated annually by the US Department of Health and Human Services Grantees are required to verify family income documents such as pay stubs, or W-2s to determine if the child/woman is income eligible. As is the case with those categorically eligible, grantees are required to retain a record of the documents reviewed and relied upon to determine that a child/woman is income eligible accompanied by a statement signed by an employee of the Head Start grantee that the child/woman was found to be eligible.
From Section 645 of the Head Start Act; and 45 CFR 1305
To check your eligibility for Head Start and Early Head Start Programs visit the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services 2013 Poverty Guidelines.
At least 90 percent of the children enrolled in each Head Start program must be from families who meet federally regulated income guidelines. Up to 10 percent of the enrollment opportunities in each program must be made available to children with disabilities. There are no family fees for Head Start or Early Head Start services. Head Start and Early Head Start are federally funded and aim to reach the families with young children who are the most at risk.
The local program you apply to is required to determine your eligibility by filling out an eligibility form. Each family will submit an application and relevant documents to be considered for eligibility and enrollment. Be sure to bring proof of your eligibility when you apply to the program. Each program will also have additional registration forms that will help them best assess and meet your family’s needs. If there is a long waiting list for services the program can help you identify other community resources as well. Ask for help at the local program if this is not clear or you need help completing forms.
How to Find a Local Head Start or Early Head Start Program
You can obtain information by contacting a local program directly. Find a Head Start or Early Head Start program near you.
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