Since 1965, Head Start has provided high quality early education and comprehensive support services to the nation’s poorest children from ages 3 through school age. In 1994, the federal Early Head Start (EHS) program was created to address the comprehensive needs of poor children under age 3 and pregnant women. In addition to early learning opportunities, Head Start and Early Head Start’s comprehensive early childhood development programs provide children and families with access to a range of services such as health screenings, referrals and follow-up support, parenting resources, and social services. Programs emphasize the importance of parental involvement and staff work to cultivate parents’ abilities as their children’s first teachers.
Research demonstrates that Head Start and Early Head Start have had positive impacts on the lives of children and families. In 2002, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) released the results of a long-term study that used random- assignment to determine the impact of participation in Early Head Start for low-income children and their families. The study found that 2-year-old children with at least one year of Early Head Start performed better on measures of cognitive, language and socio- emotional development than their peers who did not participate in the program. Children who attended Early Head Start continued to outperform children in the control group at age 3. Parents of Early Head Start children also performed better on measures of the home environment, parenting and knowledge of child development. These parents were also more likely to participate in job training and education and to be employed, in comparison to families who did not participate in Early Head Start.2