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Head Start Work Is Heart Work: OHS Priorities

Head Start work is heart work logo, describing priorities: Partnerships with State Systems, Reaching Children and Families, Investing in Workforce, and Child Health and Safety as the four sections of the main heart, with Equity in the blue heart on the center. Quality Environments in the smaller heart at the bottom.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 to prepare children for school and life. OHS has five national priority areas to support this mission, described below. At the center of each is an unwavering commitment to equity, inclusion, and belonging.

Fundamental to this commitment is the belief that all children, families, staff, and communities — including those adversely impacted by persistent poverty, racism, and bias — should have the opportunity to thrive and reach their full potential. OHS endeavors to ensure all Head Start and Early Head Start programs advance and promote equity. This ideal includes a Head Start workforce that is representative of the communities served, as well as programs that intentionally embed the language, culture, and lived experiences of enrolled children and families in their systems and services. Each program's leadership is key to this effort. They create conditions favorable for a program culture that facilitates opportunities for staff, families, and community partners to have safe spaces for open dialogue about equity, and to develop actionable strategies that promote belonging and address bias in program systems and services. More than ever, equity is the foundation of the Head Start program and a lens that informs each of our priorities.

Child Health and Safety

Reduce or eliminate children's risk of exposure to harm and hazards.

OHS expects that each child served in Head Start and Early Head Start programs is properly safeguarded. As a major part of many communities where vulnerable children and families live, Head Start programs will be a safe space for them to thrive. For decades, Head Start programs have served as familiar and welcoming places for children and families. OHS will ensure that programs remain safe environments that children and families can trust for the critical services they need to support their success.

Partnerships with State Systems

Expand Head Start programs' capacity to coordinate services with state systems and national programs.

As the needs of children and families are becoming more complex, OHS is prioritizing the coordination of Head Start services with state systems and national programs to strengthen outcomes for children birth to age 5 and their families. We will leverage the resources of Head Start Collaboration Offices (HSCOs) across the country to strengthen partnerships with school systems that lead to the developmentally appropriate alignment of curriculum, assessment, and instruction through Early Head Start and Head Start and across the early elementary grades. We will further leverage the HSCOs to facilitate partnerships with schools to support successful transitions to kindergarten and to provide inclusive and responsive services for children with special needs. OHS will also broker stronger relationships with child welfare programs and work to strengthen cross-collaborations with other programs administered by the Administration for Children and Families to provide integrated services for eligible children and families.

Reaching Children and Families

Ensuring that Head Start resources are targeted to children, families, and communities of greatest need.

The children and families most in need of Head Start services may also be the hardest to recruit and enroll in the program. Lingering effects of the pandemic have disproportionately affected people with the lowest incomes, including increasing the number of children and families experiencing homelessness.

OHS is pursuing several strategies to help grant recipients consistently reach children and families who would benefit most from the program. This includes incentivizing innovative approaches to meeting the evolving needs of children and families eligible for Head Start and Early Head Start services through our grant-making process. We will issue regular guidance on special populations eligible for Head Start services — including children in foster care placement and families receiving public assistance — as well as clarify the requirements of the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act and how to actualize 45 CFR §1302.15(c) of the Head Start Program Performance Standards. In addition, OHS will expand its technical assistance presence to further build programs' capacities to identify and prioritize children and families experiencing homelessness for enrollment.

Investing in the Workforce

Supporting a highly-skilled workforce with competitive pay, benefits, and access to supports for staff wellness.

OHS is committed to building and sustaining a strong and representative workforce across the Head Start system that delivers high-quality customer service experiences, effective program administration, and one that is fully equipped to support the needs of all children and families served. We will develop a workforce built for the 21st century that is responsive to the persistent effect of staffing shortages and that strategically positions Head Start to compete with other industries. This includes cultivating talent amongst enrolled parents as well as members of the community through investments made in their ability to access training, development, and attainment of credentials.

We will work with programs to implement policies and procedures and devote resources that support staff wellness, professional development for staff to improve skills and practices, and opportunities to expand their roles in the program and field. Our objective is to create a workplace culture across the Head Start system in which staff view their roles in the context of a career pathway.

Quality Environments

Strengthening the key components of infrastructure that assist Head Start programs with operating most effectively.

OHS will work with Head Start programs to build a solid foundation of strong systems to support quality outcomes for children and families. To ensure Head Start services are delivered at the highest level of quality, programs will establish healthy fiscal, human resources, data and evaluation, technology, and facilities and learning environments.