Health staff promote child wellness and identify concerns early to help all children become ready for school. Each program's health staff help teachers, caregivers, home visitors, and family service workers individualize services to meet each child and family's physical, mental, and oral health, nutrition, and safety needs. They also may work directly with families to support the development of children with disabilities, mental health needs, and special health care needs. Note: These resources are under review.

Section 642(e)(9) of the Improving Head Start For School Readiness Act of 2007 requires Head Start agencies to establish goals and measurable objectives for the provision of health, educational, nutritional, and social services. Goals must be related to the program mission and promote school readiness.

Grantees and delegate agencies must secure the services of a mental health professional. This is required by Head Start Program Performance Standard 1304.24(a)(2). Mental health consultants enable the timely and effective identification of and intervention in family and staff concerns about a child's mental health.

The Head Start Approach to School Readiness includes three major frameworks:

Together, they help staff understand school readiness. Each framework supports individualizing health and disabilities services to meet the needs of all children and families.

Steps to School Readiness

  1. Support the School Readiness Team as They Establish Goals for Improving School Readiness across Domains

  2. Create and Implement an Action Plan for Achieving Established School Readiness Goals

    • Collaborate with teachers, caregivers, home visitors, and family service workers to individualize plans to meet the physical, mental, and oral health, nutrition, and safety needs of all children.
    • Individualize program plans to meet the needs of children with disabilities and special health care needs.
    • Engage families in developing school readiness action plans.
    • Use curricula, program strategies, and care practices that foster nurturing and responsive relationships, social-emotional development, and positive approaches to address challenging behavior.

    Find more support at the Center for Early Childhood Mental Health, Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning, the Head Start Center for Inclusion, and Making the Link Between Health and School Readiness.

  3. Assess Child Progress on an Ongoing Basis and Aggregate and Analyze Data Throughout the Year

  4. Examine Data for Patterns of Progress for Groups of Children to Revise, Develop, and Implement Plans for Program Improvement

    • Use child assessment data to inform program self-assessment and improve program services.
    • Work with management and other staff to identify program strategies and solutions to program challenges.
    • Use health and disabilities data to improve the health and wellness of children and families.
    • Use mental health data and data collected on child and family risk and protective factors over time to understand how mental health and risk and protective factors impact school readiness.
    • Explore the Observation Toolkit for Mental Health Consultants.
    • Ensure the program has a comprehensive approach to supporting children's social-emotional development, mental health, and family engagement.


Head Start Center for Inclusion (HSCI) provides Head Start staff the chance to learn innovative and research-based practices that help children who have disabilities get ready for school.

Healthy Children Are Ready to Learn highlights the connection between health and school readiness. It also explains how Head Start's management systems support comprehensive health services that benefit children's school readiness.

Health Services to Promote Attendance Program health managers and staff can help to ensure that children are more likely to regularly attend all program activities. Use this resource to develop and implement health policies and procedures that address prevention, early identification, and prompt treatment goals.

Making the Link Between Health and School Readiness helps staff as they link school readiness goals and health services strategies. Staff can use this tool to understand the research connections, develop talking points about health and school readiness, and find strategies to support school readiness goals.

The Digging into Data Module offer staff opportunities to practice the four basic steps to integrate data into planning, implementing, and evaluating health services. Using data, staff can determine whether their services help children meet their school readiness goals.

Practical Strategies for Teachers Tools that Encourage Young Children's Social-Emotional Development [PDF, 320KB] includes a variety of activities and materials to help children promote self-regulation and problem-solving.

Recognizing and Supporting the Social and Emotional Development of Young Children Birth to Age 5 offers staff a detailed understanding of the behaviors related to social and emotional health in infants and young children. Staff also will learn strategies that parents and other caregivers can use to support these behaviors within everyday routines at the home and in early care and education settings.

Screening for Social Emotional Concerns: Considerations in the Selection of Instruments [PDF, 7.1MB] offers practical information in a useful, concise format and provides references to validated assessment and intervention practices.

When Health Affects Assessment provides questions to consider about the impact of child health on assessment. It also includes a list of tools that programs use to improve child assessment strategies.

Stories from the Field

Health Staff. HHS/ACF/OHS/SR. 2014. English.

Last Reviewed: December 2016

Last Updated: December 9, 2016