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Physical Health

Services to Promote Physical Health and Their Link to School Readiness

Head Start programs provide a variety of health services that promote children's physical health. These include services related to:

  • An ongoing source of continuous, comprehensive, accessible care (medical home) 
    Children who have a medical home receive preventive care and treatment services on a more consistent basis, improving attendance.
  • Well-child visits 
    Each state's Early and Periodic Screening, Diagnostics, and Treatment (EPSDT) program offers clear guidelines on recommended health procedures and a periodicity schedule for health visits. In addition, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issue recommendations for immunizations that protect infants, toddlers, and preschool children from serious illness. Well-child visits also include anticipatory guidance and education to help families promote wellness at home.
  • Developmental and sensory screening 
    Screening [PDF, 1.5MB] is a quick check to identify health concerns or developmental delays that may affect a child's learning. When screening results indicate a possible delay, staff work with the child's family to make a referral for further evaluation or examination.
  • Treatment and follow-up 
    Staff partner with families and health care professionals so children can receive examinations or evaluations to diagnose a health condition or identify a disability. When children need treatment or follow-up, staff keep track of health services to make sure they are timely and effective. Treatment and follow-up ensure children are able to engage, learn, and relate well with others. Early identification and intervention services offer children important individualized support for learning.
  • Medication administration 
    When appropriate, programs carefully administer medications to children who are ill or have chronic health conditions. As part of daily health checks, staff observe and record children's behavior and appearance in order to report any changes to family members and health care professionals.1This ongoing communication helps to prevent adverse effects from medication that can negatively impact learning.
  • Health checks 
    Staff in all program options support children's learning by partnering with families and health care professionals to address health concerns. Center-based staff and family child care providers conduct daily health checks. Home visitors talk with families about their child's health during their visits. Questions from When Health Affects Assessment can help staff understand learning in the context of children's health.

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

Promoting the link between health and school readiness to improve access to and engagement in learning.

  • Help families understand the purpose of each screening, what their child will experience, and how screening supports optimal development.
  • Educate families about the importance of completing any treatment or follow-up recommended by their child's health care professional.

For more information see Healthy Children Are Ready to Learn [PDF, 78KB].

Capitalizing on partnerships to expand health resources to promote optimal brain development.

  • Work with families, the Health Services Advisory Committee (HSAC) and other community partners to identify culturally and linguistically responsive health care professionals for Head Start children.
  • Assist eligible families without health insurance to enroll in Medicaid, State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), and other health insurance. If no other source of funding is available, programs have a policy in place to:
    • Document attempts to find insurance coverage for children or funding for needed health services; and 
    • Allocate funds to ensure children receive the appropriate health services.

Viewing health policies and procedures through a school readiness lens to promote child development.

  • Establish policies and procedures to support children's physical health and consistent attendance, including:
    • Appropriate short-term exclusion policies and procedures so children are only sent home when they are too ill to participate in program activities and return in a timely manner.
    • Policies and procedures for medication administration, handling, and storage so children with chronic health conditions or minor illnesses can participate in program activities.
    • First aid and emergency policies and procedures for how to respond to an illness or injury.

Using health data to make decisions that enhance the individualization of services to meet each child's needs.

  • Consider child assessment and child health data together.
  • Use child health data to determine children's health status, and monitor changes that may affect their attendance, participation, and ability to demonstrate what they know.
  • Plan formal assessments when children feel most comfortable and can engage.

Research connections 

Families who have an ongoing source of continuous care are more likely to attend well child visits, know what to do when their child is sick, and seek appropriate care for illnesses or health concerns.2 Children who participate in a consistent schedule of well child care and immunizations are more likely to stay healthy and engage in program activities. "In many respects, child health professionals play the role of 'first responder' to a wide variety of issues that affect young children's healthy development and readiness for school."3

See When Health Affects Assessment [PDF, 129KB] for additional information.


1Reichman, N. E. (2005). Low birth weight and school readiness. The Future Of Children, 15(1), 91–116.

2Herman, 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), 895–910. Retrieved from http://www.anderson.ucla.edu/Documents/areas/ctr/jandj/AHerman%20JournalofHealthCommunications%202010.pdf [PDF, 685KB]

3Bruner, C. (2009). Connecting child health and school readiness (Issue Brief No. 9). Denver, CO: The Colorado Trust.

Topic:School Readiness

Keywords:Health and wellness

Resource Type: Article

Last Updated: July 30, 2018