Head Start's Comprehensive Approach to Child Development

Sarah Merrill

By Sarah Merrill


Did you know there was a panel of experts who developed recommendations for the first Head Start program? Recommendations for a Head Start Program by a Panel of Experts, also known as the Cooke Report, included key beliefs that are still with Head Start today. This includes providing comprehensive services "involving activities generally associated with the fields of health, social services, and education."

We are true to our roots! Head Start programs have provided comprehensive services to 33 million children since 1965. "What we tried to visualize was a comprehensive child development effort that went far beyond simply preparing someone to do better in kindergarten; it went to the health of the child and the overall psychology," said Dr. Robert Cooke, a co-leader of the initial Project Head Start.

Polly Greenberg said, "From the absolute beginning, Head Start was never intended as just to be preschool. The emphasis was on comprehensive services: nutrition, health screening, health care, social services, and new careers for the parents with training and income. Helping people get out of the cycle of poverty; and that includes energizing, giving people confidence that they can do this. And it is one step at a time."

Providing such a breadth of services can be challenging. It takes a lot of planning, coordination, and community partners. However, a comprehensive approach allows Head Start staff to focus on children and families holistically. Their work in providing a comprehensive approach for each child and family is the essence of individualized services. We know development is influenced by individual temperament, life experiences, and interests. Children grow and learn in their own style and pace. We also know that the areas of development are connected and influenced by one another. We would do a disservice if we didn't consider the whole child, in the context of his or her family, when planning and delivering all types of services.

Thank you, Head Start staff! Because of your work in providing comprehensive services, you've helped Head Start and Early Head Start programs to prepare 32 million children for school and life during our 50-year history. The work you do each and every day with children and families is so important. You may realize that you make a difference when you notice children learning and growing while they are in your care. However, your work is more than that. Your work provides a foundation for them to continue thriving. So, thank you! You matter; your work matters; and most importantly, you let children and families know that they matter, too.

On May 18, 2016, we will be celebrating Head Start's 51st birthday. All month we'll be looking at the many aspects of comprehensive services that Head Start programs provide. You can start by checking out the Head Start timeline to explore the ways we've integrated comprehensive services from the very beginning.

Sarah Merrill is a Program Specialist for the Office of Head Start.

Head Start's Comprehensive Approach to Child Development. HHS/ACF/OHS. 2016. English.

Last Reviewed: May 2016

Last Updated: May 9, 2016