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Head Start (HS) is a federally funded child development program serving children from birth to age five and pregnant families. The Office of Head Start, in the Administration for Children and Families, provides funds directly to programs. Head Start serves children from ages three through five. Early Head Start (EHS) is a child development and family support program and serves expectant families, infants, toddlers, and their families. Migrant and Seasonal Head Start serves infants, toddlers, and preschool-age children.

All HS programs are authorized by the Congress of the United States through the Improving School Readiness through Head Start Act of 2007. The Act describes the general scope and design of HS/EHS programs. The Head Start Program Performance Standards (HSPPS) define the specific regulations for all programs serving infants, toddlers, preschoolers, and pregnant women, including partnerships with child care programs. The HSPPS describes the requirements for the home-based program option for HS. The Information Memorandum Child Development Services During Home Visits and Socializations in the Early Head Start Home-Based Program Option, ACYF-IM-HS-00-22, provides even greater detail about the child development element of the home-based option for EHS.

The regulations in each of these documents are included in this Handbook to help you become familiar with the unique and comprehensive approach of HS programming. Your own program will further define this information within its own procedures and protocols. In addition, this Handbook relates research on the efficacy of home-based programs, strategies for best practices, video examples for reflection, resources, and wisdom from your colleagues shared in Voices from the Field.

Terminology for the name of the person who conducts home visits varies from program to program. You may be called a family advocate or an infant toddler educator. In this Handbook, we use the term home visitor. The terms parent and family are used interchangeably throughout this document, except where the law and regulations require that the work be done with parents. This represents all of the people who may play both a parenting role in a child’s life and a partnering role with HS/EHS staff. This includes fathers, mothers, expectant parents, grandparents, kith and kin caregivers, LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) parents, guardians, teen parents, and families with diverse structures that include multiple coparenting relationships.

We hope you find this to be an engaging, informative, and useful resource to support your truly important work as a home visitor.