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Family Health Literacy

Family Health Literacy Services and Their Link to School Readiness

Health literacy programs support and empower families to be their children's health care champions. Families also are more likely to seek help from staff and health care professionals to help them advocate for their children.

Health literacy is "the degree to which individuals have the capacity to obtain, process, and understand basic information and services needed to make appropriate decisions regarding their health."1 Since poor health literacy is associated with poorer health outcomes, Head Start grantees can play a critical role in assisting families to:

  • Gain knowledge about health issues relevant to their child
  • Learn about important prevention actions they can take
  • Reduce the complexity of accessing needed health care

Importantly, improving health literacy goes beyond simple knowledge transfer typical of traditional health education. It is about empowering and motivating families to critically and appropriately use health information to make personal health choices and to implement behavior changes.2 Successful health literacy interventions lead to action and measurable outcomes.

Family members learn:

  • How to identify their child's health concerns
  • What to do if a child is sick or injured
  • Where to find reliable health information and health care
  • When to contact their child's medical professional or go to urgent care or the emergency room

Working together, families and staff are more likely to create safe and healthy environments for children and participate in appropriate preventive services.

Head Start programs that support health literacy activities embrace diversity and help families maintain their health beliefs and traditions while learning additional approaches to wellness.

Improve the effectiveness of health services and support school readiness by:

Providing engaging, empowering, and action-oriented health education programs that are designed for and with families to support child development in culturally and linguistically responsive and meaningful ways.

  • Engage families in discussions about their health needs, and use this information to plan health education activities that increase their health literacy
  • Support families as they integrate healthy habits into their daily routines by including health information in:
    • Home visits
    • Parent and socialization meetings
    • Family engagement activities
  • Help families understand the critical link between child health and school readiness.

Promoting relationship-based competencies for all staff to support school readiness connections between a child's home and the program.

Cultivating effective partnerships to support healthy child development and promote school readiness.

  • Build relationships with multilingual, multicultural health care professionals who:
    • Understand the language, culture, and traditions of enrolled families
    • Can discuss child development and health information in ways that are meaningful to families

Research connections 

Families that receive accessible health information in their home language are better prepared to seek and follow appropriate treatment and often can improve child attendance. Reduced absenteeism can help increase school success. "When low-income families receive properly directed health education on the treatment of common childhood illnesses, they become more knowledgeable and efficient in providing for their children’s health care needs."3

1 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. (2010) National Action Plan to Improve Health Literacy.  Washington, DC.

2 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. (2010). National Action Plan to Improve Health Literacy. Washington, DC: Author. Retrieved from: http://www.iom.edu/Reports/2004/Health-Literacy-A-Prescription-to-End-Confusion.aspx.

3Herman, A., & Jackson, P. (2011). Empowering low-income parents with skills to reduce excess pediatric emergency room and clinic visits through a tailored low literacy training intervention. Journal of Health Communications, 15(8), 908.


Last Updated: October 31, 2017