Strategies for Head Start – Child Care Partnerships

Partnerships between Head Start and child care providers that blend funds and deliver full-day, full-year services are important to the day-to-day functioning of programs. Grantee and delegate staff will find strategies for building these partnerships in terms of securing funding, expanding existing services, and providing full-day services.

The following is an excerpt from …

by John Bancroft
Executive Director, Puget Sound Educational Service District

Head Start Family Child Care
Head Start Services Provided at a Child Care Center
Expanding Head Start to Full-Day, Full Year

Head Start and child care have much in common: both provide services to young children; both have frequent contact with parents; both work with special needs children, the USDA nutrition program, and (hopefully) with the public school system as children transition to kindergarten. Above all, both programs share a commitment to high expectations for all children and families, and the joy of working with young children and their families. Sometimes, however, misperceptions and miscommunications between Head Start and child care programs have interfered with their ability to take full advantage of each other's knowledge and experience.

As the needs of families change, Head Start and child care professionals must come together to provide comprehensive full-day services to low-income families [when] the parents are working or in training. The most common model has been wrap-around child care, in which the part-day Head Start classroom maintains its identity and autonomy, while child care services are provided before and after the Head Start day, and all day when Head Start is not in session. The wrap-around services may be provided by a single agency offering both Head Start and child care programs. More often, the parent is responsible for putting together a patchwork of care and trying to overcome scheduling and transportation problems, inadequate care, and other barriers. For the at-risk child, bouncing between several caregivers may be harmful to social and emotional development. On the other hand, wrap-around care sometimes works well for the child, particularly if the quality of care provided is good and smooth transitions have been developed by the adults involved.

The increasing need for full-day services for low-income families has prompted many programs and communities to design more innovative approaches to combining Head Start and child care funding streams to provide quality seamless services to children and families. One of the best summaries of these new initiatives is the Children's Defense Fund's "how to" book, Working Together for Children: Head Start and Child Care Partnerships (see Resources, p. 23). In addition to providing an overview of several models of Head Start-Child Care partnerships, the book profiles some 23 programs across the country that are combining Head Start and child care services in some creative and practical ways.

Three such strategies for combining Head Start and child care services are (1) Head Start Family Child Care; (2) Head Start services provided at a child care center; and (3) expanding Head Start to provide full-day, full-year services.

Head Start Family Child Care

The Head Start program contracts with licensed family child care providers, who remain independent rather than becoming Head Start employees. The child care provider is also the Head Start teacher and receives a great deal of support from the grantee staff, including training, technical assistance, supplies and materials, and participation in a provider support group. Head Start grantee staff works closely with the enrolled families to ensure that they receive comprehensive social and health services. The provider gets most of her income from child care subsidies, although she receives a limited amount of funds to cover the work she does as a Head Start provider above and beyond child care licensing standards, including home visits, curriculum planning, screening, staffing, and record keeping.

Head Start services provided at a child care center

This model can follow essentially the same arrangement outlined above, although staffing models can vary considerably. In some cases, the Head Start grantee provides the family service and health staff, while paying the center for some (or all) of the cost of child development services. Other programs have all staff work for the center, which operates under a contract with Head Start. In at least one program, Head Start funds are also used to increase staff salaries, so that Head Start-qualified staff can be hired and retained.

Expanding Head Start to full-day, full year

In this model, child care subsidies are usually accessed to pay for some sort of extended services. The arrangement raises a host of funding issues, which vary from state to state, concerning the allocation of costs between Head Start and child care. One of the advantages of this model is that it allows the Head Start program to have maximum control over the quality of the full-day services. If the program can access additional funding sources (e.g., United Way, local businesses), the program may also be able to provide comprehensive services to at-risk children who do not qualify for Head Start.

Although communication, funding policies, and program requirements may initially challenge Head Start-child care partnerships, models for bridging these gaps continue to develop and thrive. At the same time, since "welfare reform" is a reality, the need for quality full-day full-year programs will increase. Head Start has always been able to grow and change in response to the changing needs of children and families, and we will surely rise to this challenge as well!

"Strategies for Head Start - Child Care Partnerships." Bancroft, John. Head Start - Child Care Partnerships. Head Start Bulletin #62. HHS/ACF/ACYF/HSB. 1997. English.

Last Reviewed: November 2008

Last Updated: September 29, 2014