Head Start programs (including Early Head Start) make ongoing recruitment and enrollment efforts to ensure that children with disabilities and their families are enrolled and have access to high-quality early childhood services. Each program is, in fact, required to ensure that at least 10% of its total funded enrollment slots are occupied by children eligible for services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).
If a program experiences a barrier in meeting this enrollment requirement, it must submit a waiver request prior to the end of its program year.
Waiver requests should be made through the Regional Office after the hafway point in the program year and no later than one month after the close of the program year. The following steps can guide programs in preparing their waiver request.
Step 1. Determine the percentage of enrolled children with disabilities.
Agencies that operate both Head Start and Early Head Start programs are expected to enroll at least 10% of children with disabilities in Head Start and at least 10% of children with disabilities in Early Head Start. The requirement of a minimum of 10% enrollment of children with disabilities is, however, applicable at the program level. Therefore, the number and percentage expected is based on the full enrollment of both programs.
An agency has an Early Head Start program with 12 of 100 children (12%) identified with disabilities, and a Head Start program with 18 of 200 children (9%) identified with disabilities. The total funded enrollment of the agency is 300. The total enrollment of children with disabilities is 30. This combined number equals 10%, so the agency doesn't need to submit a waiver request.
An agency has an Early Head Start program with nine of 72 children (12.5%) identified with disabilities, and a Head Start program with 25 out of 420 children (6%) identified with disabilities. The total funded enrollment of the agency is 492. The total enrollment of children with disabilities is 34. This combined number equals approximately 7%, which means the agency must submit a waiver request.
Step 2. Gather enrollment numbers.
Your written request should indicate funded enrollment and the current number of children enrolled (not cumulative). Use the number reported on your most recent end-of-month enrollment report in the Head Start Enterprise System. Include the number of children enrolled with disabilities on this same date.
Grantees with delegates must report these numbers for each delegate agency.
Step 3. Draft your written justification.
The following questions may be asked by the Regional Office. It's advisable to prepare your answers prior to sending a request for waiver.
- Was a disability waiver granted last year (i.e., was the 10% enrollment requirement met the previous program year)? If so, describe what changed this year that prevented your agency from meeting the requirement.
- How has your agency increased or improved efforts to recruit children with disabilities and to identify and refer children with suspected disabilities? Please provide an explanation of the steps taken in preparation for and during the current program year to meet the requirement and why these steps were not sufficient. Please indicate if any technical assistance was requested and/or provided to address this issue.
- What does the community assessment identify regarding the number of children with disabilities? Please speak to what the assessment indicates regarding children with disabilities within the service area and the number of children served by other community agencies, including the percentage of children attending public school who are receiving services.
- What is the role of your agency and what efforts has it made to refer enrolled children that may be eligible for services to the Local Education Agency (LEA) and/or early intervention agency for further evaluation?
- What is the role and responsibilities of your agency's disabilities services coordinator? Please include how long the employee has held this position and what support mechanisms are in place for individuals transitioning into this position.
- Are there current agreements or memoranda of understanding (MOUs) with the LEAs (for preschoolers) or early intervention agencies (for infants and toddlers) in the service area (or areas)? Please identify how these agreements are documented at the local level.
- What challenges to participation in these LEA and/or early intervention agency agreements has your agency faced? What efforts were made to overcome these challenges and how were these challenges documented? Please indicate if the agency informed the program specialist of difficulties in collaborating with IDEA agencies and how this information was shared.
- What efforts have been made to recruit children with disabilities? Has your agency:
- Provided information to parents describing Head Start as an appropriate placement for children with disabilities? If so, how was this information distributed (e.g., verbally, electronically, handouts) and how often?
- Ensured that parents of children with suspected disabilities understand the benefits of early intervention and their rights under IDEA and are offered support in obtaining a full evaluation and attending Individualized Education Program (IEP) meetings?
- Provided information to the local IDEA agencies making sure they are aware of Head Start as the least restrictive placement for many eligible children? If so, how was this information distributed (e.g., verbally, electronically, handouts) and how often?
- Worked with local special education and related service providers, health clinics, and other organizations to ensure they are knowledgeable about Head Start?
- As applicable, has the agency worked with Part C providers (for infants and toddlers) to transition age-eligible children with disabilities to Head Start? Has the agency identified delays in obtaining evaluations, Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSPs), or IEPs in compliance with the timelines established under Section 619 for preschoolers or Part C for infants and toddlers of IDEA? If so, how has this been addressed and responded to?
- What strategies will the agency use to assure an increase in the percentage of enrolled children with disabilities?
- How will the agency document efforts to enroll children with disabilities and barriers to providing timely evaluations, eligibility determinations, and supports to children with disabilities?
Step 4. Check your submission to ensure it is complete.
Submitting a disability waiver request that is thorough and fully explains the program's efforts will expedite the Regional Office's decision. If a waiver request is denied, the program may be able to submit additional information and request reconsideration.
Step 5. Keep recruiting to meet the enrollment requirement.
Waivers are issued for one year. Even when granted a waiver, programs are expected to make every effort to continue making progress toward ensuring a minimum of 10% of enrolled children are eligible for services under IDEA.
Check in with your program specialist as soon as you anticipate you may be unable to meet the requirement for enrollment of children with disabilities. If you are unsure about specific steps you can take to enroll children with disabilities or are having trouble getting referred children evaluated, be sure to speak with your early childhood education technical assistance specialist. You will also find many helpful resources on the ECLKC (see resources below).
Additional Questions to Consider
- How many children already had an IEP or IFSP at the start of the program year?
- How many children were referred to the LEA or Part C provider for evaluation?
- Of the referrals:
- How many were determined eligible for an IEP or IFSP?
- How many did not qualify for services?
- How many moved, refused, or dropped from the program and did not complete the assessment process?
- How many were still awaiting assessment at the end of the program year?
- ACF-IM-HS-20-01 Inclusion of Children with Disabilities
- Serving Children with Disabilities and the 10% Eligibility Requirement
Resource Type: Article
National Centers: Office of Head Start
Last Updated: December 5, 2023