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Head Start Work Is Heart Work: OHS Priorities

Heart-shaped logo for Office of Head Start's Big Four Priorities.The Office of Head Start (OHS) continually works toward our mission for eligible children and families to receive high-quality services in safe and healthy settings that prepare children for school and life.

Presently, OHS is focusing on four priority areas to support this mission, outlined below.

1. Advancing Equity

Promote belonging by identifying and addressing barriers and promoting new pathways for family stability.

Equity is at the core of Head Start principles and philosophy. Fundamental to the program's design is the belief that all children, families, and communities — including those who have been adversely affected by persistent poverty, racism, and bias — should have the opportunity to thrive and reach their full potential. For Head Start programs, equity is an expansive concept that includes racial, gender, and socioeconomic considerations. Head Start programs lead their communities in advancing equity by providing services that support the development of the whole child — cognitively, physically, socially, and emotionally — and implementing systems that promote an inclusive culture.

Advancing equity in Head Start programs is a dynamic and ongoing effort. It provides an opportunity for all of us to be creative and inclusive, to explore and to be flexible, and to revisit and recommit to the purpose driving the Head Start program. Program leadership is key to this effort as they have open dialogues and facilitate opportunities for staff, families, and community partners to have safe conversations around equity. These conversations can explore new ways to promote equitable access and environments that meet the needs and highlight the strengths of the communities served by Head Start programs. An innovative, intentional, and systemic approach will provide the Head Start workforce, and the larger early childhood community, with strategies that promote belonging, address bias, and promote equitable practices, services, and systems.

OHS is dedicated to ensuring that children, families, and communities — including those who have been adversely affected by persistent poverty, racism, and bias – thrive. This is accomplished through services that support the development of the whole child and implementing systems that promote an inclusive culture. Read more about the steps OHS is taking to advance equity.

2. Supporting Programs' Pandemic Response and Recovery

Work to safely restore in-person programming in healthy environments.

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected every person in the Head Start community, collectively and individually. The prolonged uncertainty has created anxiety for programs, staff, children, and families. Head Start programs have responded to the inconceivable challenge of COVID-19 with incredible heart. Looking at the unique and constantly evolving circumstances of their own communities, Head Start programs have taken action to provide high-quality services to children and families in a time of desperate need. They've made continual adjustments, supporting staff wellness while also maintaining a culture of continuous quality improvement through management and oversight systems.

OHS continues to support programs in providing flexibilities, additional funding, and up-to-date, evidence-based information that prioritizes staff, children, and family mental health and well-being. Head Start programs have been key influences in supporting vaccination for staff, families, and children. Vaccination has been and continues to be the key strategy to slowing the spread of disease and reducing severe illness and hospitalization. Head Start programs are exploring new ways of providing in-person comprehensive services to all the children they are funded to serve. Programs are also supporting their Head Start staff, each of whom has also been impacted personally by COVID-19 even as they serve children and families.

3. Investing in the Workforce

Sustain a highly effective and representative workforce to support all children and families.

Every person in the Head Start workforce plays a critical role in supporting the children and families who need it most. The success of each Head Start program depends upon staff having the knowledge, skills, and abilities to perform the responsibilities of their position effectively and efficiently. Head Start programs across the county are experiencing workforce shortages and challenges. The issue of pay and livable wages for Head Start staff has national urgency.

OHS is committed to working with programs to invest in Head Start staff. Program leadership implement policies and procedures that support staff wellness, effectiveness, and continuous improvement. Head Start programs provide professional development opportunities for staff to learn, improve skills and practices, and expand their roles in the program and field. Further, program climate impacts staff effectiveness and their ability to perform. A program climate that supports staff wellness leads to staff who are happier, healthier, and less stressed; who experience less depression; and who, in turn, engage in higher-quality interactions with children and families.

4. Reaching More Children and Families

Focus Head Start services in places with greatest need.

The children who most need Head Start services may be those who are hardest to enroll and retain. Rapid shifts in demographics have been exacerbated and highlighted by the COVID-19 pandemic and may result in under-enrollment for some Head Start programs.

OHS is pursuing several strategies to support grant recipients in reaching the children and families who need Head Start programs the most. Understanding community need is key to meet this goal. Updating their community assessment helps programs determine if the current program options and methods of service delivery are still appropriate for the families they serve. Grant recipients expand their marketing approach to promote their services and develop new or revitalize existing partnerships to expand enrollment capability. Involving the governing body or Tribal Council allows these important organizational leaders to consider strategic shifts and structure systemic approaches to reach the children and families who need Head Start services the most.

Digital Backgrounds

Use these virtual backgrounds during your online meetings to share OHS priorities.

Download Zoom Backgrounds