About Early Head Start
The reauthorization of the Head Start Act in 1994 made it possible to establish Early Head Start as a program to serve infants and toddlers under the age of 3, and pregnant women.
Early Head Start provides early, continuous, intensive, and comprehensive child development and family support services to low-income infants and toddlers and their families, and pregnant women and their families.
The Goals of Early Head Start
- To provide safe and developmentally enriching caregiving which promotes the physical, cognitive, social and emotional development of infants and toddlers, and prepares them for future growth and development;
- To support parents, both mothers and fathers, in their role as primary caregivers and teachers of their children, and families in meeting personal goals and achieving self sufficiency across a wide variety of domains;
- To mobilize communities to provide the resources and environment necessary to ensure a comprehensive, integrated array of services and support for families;
- To ensure the provision of high quality responsive services to family through the development of trained, and caring staff.
The Principles of Early Head Start
These principles are designed to nurture healthy attachments between parent and child (and child and caregiver), emphasize a strengths-based, relationship-centered approach to services, and encompass the full range of a family's needs from pregnancy through a child's third birthday.
- An Emphasis on High Quality which recognizes the critical opportunity of EHS programs to positively impact children and families in the early years and beyond.
- Prevention and Promotion Activities that both promote healthy development and recognize and address atypical development at the earliest stage possible.
- Positive Relationships and Continuity which honor the critical importance of early attachments on healthy development in early childhood and beyond. The parents are viewed as a child's first, and most important, relationship.
- Parent Involvement activities that offer parents a meaningful and strategic role in the program's vision, services, and governance.
- Inclusion strategies that respect the unique developmental trajectories of young children in the context of a typical setting, including children with disabilities.
- Cultural competence which acknowledges the profound role that culture plays in early development. Programs also recognize the influence of cultural values and beliefs on both staff and families' approaches to child development. Programs work within the context of home languages for all children and families.
- Comprehensiveness, Flexibility and Responsiveness of services which allow children and families to move across various program options over time, as their life situation demands.
- Transition planning respects families' need for thought and attention paid to movements across program options and into—and out of—Early Head Start programs.
- Collaboration is, simply put, central to an Early Head Start program's ability to meet the comprehensive needs of families. Strong partnerships allow programs to expand their services to families with infants and toddlers beyond the door of the program and into the larger community
- Child Development: Programs must support the physical, social, emotional, cognitive, and language development of each child. Parenting education and the support of a positive parent-child relationship are critical to this cornerstone.
- Family Development: Programs must seek to empower families by developing goals for themselves and their children. Staff and parents develop individualized family development plans that focus on the child's developmental needs and the family's social and economic needs. Families that are involved in other programs requiring a family service plan will receive a single coordinated plan so that they experience a seamless system of services.
- Community Building: Programs are expected to conduct an assessment of community resources so that they may build a comprehensive network of services and supports for pregnant women and families with young children. The goal of these collaborative relationships is to increase family access to community supports, make the most efficient use of limited resources, and effect system-wide changes to improve the service delivery system for all families in the community.
- Staff Development: The success of the Early Head Start program rests largely on the quality of the staff. Staff members must have the capacity to develop caring, supportive relationships with both children and families. On-going training, supervision, and mentoring will encompass an inter-disciplinary approach and emphasize relationship-building. Staff development will be grounded in established "best practices" in the areas of child development, family development, and community building.
All Early Head Start programs serve families through a full day, full year program option that best meets the needs of their families. Program options provide options, determined through the data collected from their community needs assessment and conversations with families, provide them with the ability to comprehensively and flexibly meet the needs of families. As infants and toddlers grow and change, and as family needs evolve, diverse program options can support them over time. This ensures that families can grow within a consistent, supportive setting, buttressed by strong relationships and developmentally-appropriate care and services. Program options for EHS include the following:
- Center-Based services provide early learning, care and enrichment experiences to children in an early care and education setting. Staff members also visit family homes at least twice per year.
- Home-Based services are provided through weekly home visits to each enrolled child and family. The home visitor provides child-focused visits that promote the parents' ability to support the child's development. Twice per month, the program offers opportunities for parents and children to come together as a group for learning, discussion, and social activity
- Family Child Care services provide care and education to children in a private home or family-like setting.
- Combination services combine both home- and center-based services.
Early Head Start Benefits Children and Families
A national evaluation conducted by Mathematica Policy Research, Inc., and Columbia University's Center for Children and Families, in collaboration with the Early Head Start Research Consortium, found:
- That 3-year-old Early Head Start Children performed significantly better on a range of measures of cognitive, language, and social-emotional development than a randomly assigned control group.
- The parents of the 3-year-olds scored significantly higher than control group parents on many aspects of home environment and parenting behavior.
- There were impacts for parents on progress towards self-sufficiency, and for fathers specifically.
The Early Head Start Research and Evaluation Project (EHSREP) involved 3,001 children and families in 17 sites; half received EHS services and half were randomly assigned to a control group that did not receive EHS services. Parents and children were assessed when the children were 14, 24, and 36 months old. Families were also interviewed about their use of a wide range of services at 6, 15, and 26 months after enrollment, and when they exited the program.
Overall Impacts at Age 3:
- EHS program children scored 91.4 on the Bayley Mental Development Index, compared with 89.9 for control group children, and they scored 83.3 on the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test, compared to 81.1 for the control group. Early Head Start children were significantly less likely than control group children to score in the at-risk range of developmental functioning as tested in both the Bayley and Peabody measures.
- EHS children engaged their parents more, were less negative toward their parents, and more attentive to objects during play.
- EHS parents rated their children as lower in aggressive behavior than control parents did.
- EHS parents were more emotionally supportive and less detached than control group.
- EHS parents were more likely to report reading to their child every day: 56.8 percent of EHS parents compared to 52.0 percent of control group.
- EHS parents were less likely to report having spanked their children in the past week (46.7 percent program parents vs. 53.8 percent control group parents. EHS parents reported a greater repertoire of discipline strategies, including more mild and fewer punitive strategies.
- EHS fathers were less likely to reports spanking their children during the previous week; 25.4 percent of program fathers, compared to 35.6 percent of control fathers.
- EHS program children were observed to be more able to engage their fathers and to be more attentive during play.
How the Performance Standards Support New Early Head Start Programs
Lessons Learned from the Early Head Start Research and Evaluation Project
The Head Start Program Performance Standards (the Performance Standards) were established to implement all requirements of program administration and grants management contained in the Head Start Act. All programs must focus on fully implementing the comprehensive Performance Standards focusing on both child and family functioning, as quickly as possible in order to achieve broad and strong pattern of impacts for children and families.
In looking at implementation of the Performance Standards, the Early Head Start Research and Evaluation Project (EHSREP) found that the pattern of impacts across Child Development and Health, Family Development, and Community Building, and Management Systems and Procedures was stronger for those programs that fully implemented them early.
The study found:
- All programs had positive impacts; however, those providing diverse program options had the broadest and strongest pattern of impacts. Those programs that fully implemented the Performance Standards had the broadest pattern of impacts for children and families.
- Those programs with the home-based option tended to have impact on parenting and parent self-sufficiency outcomes.
- Center-based programs, and home-based programs that fully implemented the Performance Standards with a strong focus on child development, had impacts on child outcomes at age 3.
Strategies for successful implementation included:
- Increasing emphasis on child development through curriculum selection
- Expanding child development services through partnership with quality child care
- Working with community child care to improve quality in both Early Head Start programs and child care
- Establishing and maintaining community partnerships to support families' ability to access services
- Developing management information systems to facilitate information on families' access to services, especially health services
The EHSREP found that overall, children and families benefitted from Early Head Start.
Methods: The EHSREP included three rounds of week-long site visits to each of the 17 programs in the study during the period of 1996 to 1999. In order to achieve full implementation, a program scored at least four on a five-point scale for all domains assessed: Child Development and Health, Family Development, and Community Building, and Management Systems and Procedures.
For more information, visit: http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/opre/resource/how-the-performance-standards-support-new-early-head-start-programs
Early Head Start Program Facts for Fiscal Year 2012
Early Head Start (EHS), a federally funded community-based program for low-income pregnant women and families with infants and toddlers up to age 3, has 1,016 programs which provide EHS child development and family support services in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands and served over 167,000 children under the age of three for fiscal year 20121.
EHS Funded Enrollment - Regional
FY - 2012
|XI - American Indian and Alaska Native||3,590||3,276||314||57|
EHS Funded Enrollment - State
FY - 2012
2Funded enrollment of infants and toddlers under the age of 3 and expectant women for FY 2012.
3Cumulative enrollment - total number of infants and toddlers under the age of 3 and expectant women served during FY
EHS Regional Funded Enrollment by Program Option
FY - 2012
|Region||Center- Based||Percentage||Home-Based Funded Enrollment||Percentage||Combination Funded Enrollment||Percentage||Family Child Care Funded Enrollment||Percentage|
|XI - American Indian and Alaska Native||2,307||63.67%||967||26.68%||25||0.69%||6||.017%|
FY - 2012 Program Year - Selected Data
|Ages of Children|
|Less than a year old||26.53%|
|1 year old||28.81%|
|2 years old||31.43%|
|3 years old||3.57%|
|American Indian and Alaska Native||4.44%|
|Black or African American||25.40%|
|Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander||0.48%|
- 13.4 percent of the Early Head Start enrollment consisted of children with disabilities (developmental delay, health impairments, visual handicaps, hearing impairments, emotional disturbance, speech and language impairments, orthopedic handicaps and learning disabilities.)
- 97 percent of Early Head Start children received continuous accessible health care and 97 percent had health insurance. 91 percent of those with health insurance were enrolled in the Medicaid/Early and Periodic Screening, Diagnostic, and Treatment (EPSDT), CHIP (Children's Health Insurance Program) or a state sponsored child health insurance program.
- More than 101,450 parents volunteered at their local Early Head Start program.
- About 20 percent of EHS staff are HS/EHS parents.
1For more information, please see the 2012 Program Information Report (PIR).
The Office of Head Start PIR data is publicly available on the PIR Reports website, http://hses.ohs.acf.hhs.gov/pir.This site also has data and survey forms for prior PIR years. Contact the Head Start Enterprise System (HSES) Help Desk to request an access account.
All existing HSES users can access PIR data directly in HSES (reports menu) or through the PIR Reports website using their current access account.
Last Updated: April 16, 2013