Early Head Start Program & Resources

Whether you are an educator or a parent, you want the children in your care to have the best chances of future success. Although holding responsibility for a child’s future can feel stressful, there are thankfully numerous resources educators and parents can draw upon to help the children they care for achieve their goals. In addition, many programs throughout the country do the essential work of ensuring equal access to education for children despite their external circumstances. One of the most well-known of these is the Head Start program, a mainstay for low-income families since 1964. Conceived from the idea that access to education would help break the cycle of generational poverty, the early Head Start program strives for a true partnership with the community. As such, they are operated locally as non-profits and encourage parental involvement in the classroom.

Early Head Start serves pregnant women and children up to age three. The programs are tailored to the developmental needs of infants and toddlers and are geared to encourage and include parental involvement. Early Head Start has several specific goals for families and children, including the following:

  • Early Head Start prepares children with the growth and development needed for future educational success.
  • Early Head Start aids children in developing physically, cognitively, socially, and emotionally.
  • Early Head Start supports parents in their roles as caregivers and teachers.
  • Early Head Start assists parents in meeting their goals.
  • Early Head Start assists families in finding the support they need for housing security, financial stability, and continuing education.
  • Early Head Start mobilizes community resources to support children and families.
  • Head Start Programs work with families to ensure children have health insurance coverage.
  • Head Start Programs assist families with disabled children to procure the appropriate services.

Early Head Start, like Head Start, receives federal funding and support. In the 2018–2019 school year, the latest year for which there is available data, 873,019 children were enrolled in Head Start programs in the United States. In the same year, the program employed and contracted 273,000 staff members, 23 percent of whom were parents of former or current Head Start students.

Early Head Start Options

Early Head Start makes every effort to meet the specific needs of diverse children and their families. As such, Early Head Start offers three options for providing educational services, each meant to support a consistent setting for families and children while providing developmentally appropriate care. The options include the following:

  1. Center-Based Services
  2. Family Care Services
  3. Home-Based Services

Families can choose the option that will best fit the needs of the family and the infant or toddler who is enrolling in the service.

Early Head Start Center-Based Services

Early Head Start center-based services are primarily offered in daycare centers, schools, or Early Head Start centers. The program consists of 1,380 hours of classroom experience geared toward children up to 36 months of age. 

Early Head Start classrooms need to adhere to specific ratios regarding teachers and children. Each class must have two teachers with no more than eight children, or three teachers with no more than nine children, to meet these guidelines. Each teacher will be assigned primary responsibility for no more than four children to ensure continuity of care. In addition, staffing changes should be kept minimal. 

Early Head Start Family Care Services

Early Head Start family care services are services that are provided in a private home or family setting, though not the home in which the child lives. Family care providers must operate for at least 1,380 hours per year and must meet one of the following requirements:

  • A provider may take a maximum of six children, only two of whom may be under the age of 24 months. 
  • A provider who employs an assistant may take a maximum of 12 children, only four of whom may be under 24 months in age. 
  • A provider may care for four children under the age of 36 months if the maximum group size is four and no more than two children are under 18 months old. 

Early Head Start Home-Based Services

Early Head Start home-based services allow children and families to work with an educator in their own home. Home visitors work with families on a weekly basis using daily routines, parent/child interactions, and household materials. In addition, the program provides monthly group visits for parents and children to promote social development. 

Understanding the Benefits of Enrollment in an Early Head Start Program

So, now that you know the details about Early Head Start, you may still be wondering how the program benefits children and families. How exactly will the children in your care carry the benefits of this early learning program into their school-age years?

Fortunately, there is specific research to pinpoint the advantages of Early Head Start. The Early Head Start Research and Evaluation Project, which began in 1996, tracked 3,001 children in 17 sites for specific developmental markers. The study compared students who received Early Head Start Services to students who did not. At the end of the study, researchers reported an overall promising pattern of positive outcomes, especially in areas that predict later school outcomes. These include:

  • Positive impacts on cognitive development
  • Significant impacts on language development
  • Favorable impact on social and emotional development
  • Significant positive impacts on parenting outcomes
  • Positive impacts on parental self-sufficiency

As promising as the overall results are, it is prudent to note that children who attended Early Head Start programs were still slightly below the national average for certain markers. However, compared to the control group of children who did not receive services, Early Head Start children were ahead of the curve. 

Early Head Start and Family Assistance

Early Head Start is not only beneficial to the children who are enrolled and are receiving educational services. The Head Start program takes a holistic point of view in that it was founded to provide essential services that promote family well-being. Below are some of the services with which Head Start staff are able to assist during times of emergency or disaster:

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In addition to the above, Early Head Start can help provide assistance with housing, legal aid, and access to economic impact payments during a natural disaster.

How To Apply for an Early Head Start Program

Applying for any Head Start program requires meeting the federal guidelines. In addition, local programs may have requirements that are specific to the community they serve. The federal government accepts all children who meet any of the following criteria:

  1. The family’s income is at or below the poverty level (according to the poverty guidelines established by the United States Department of Health and Human Services). 
  2. The child who is applying is in the foster care system. 
  3. The child who is applying is homeless. 
  4. The child who is applying is from a family that receives public assistance (TANF or SSI). 

Applications for the program are handled at a local level, and you will need to search for a program in your area if you would like to apply. Once you have located a program, they will have the information to guide your family through the Head Start application process. You may even be able to submit your Early Head Start application online. Unfortunately, due to limited funding, programs are limited in size, and it is advisable to submit an application as early as possible. If the program you apply for is already full, you may request to join a waitlist. 

Tips for Supporting Infants and Toddlers in Early Head Start

Transitioning infants and toddlers into a new setting can be emotional for both parents and children. As a parent, you may be trusting your precious child to the care of an unknown person for the first time, or you might worry that your child will acutely feel your absence. But this transition is an opportunity to teach your children new skills for the benefit of their future. To that end, the Early Head Start program embraces continuity of care practices geared to help children succeed in the early learning environment and beyond. These include guidelines on the three elements to bridge continuity of care for Early Head Start program policymakers:

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Programs should evaluate these policies regularly and adjust as needed. Remember that your goal should be to build relationships by incorporating policies that best support your little learners and their families.

The Advantages of Learning Software for Children in Early Education

So, how can programs efficiently incorporate communication, program elements, portfolio development, and continuous tracking into an already busy day? In today’s educational institutions, educational software is the answer. 

For Early Head Start Programs, you will likely want to work with software developed with your program goals in mind. Learning Genie, a leader in early education software, has specific elements geared toward Head Start programs. For instance, the software has several features that can ease communication with families, provide resources to parents, and track in-kind reports. In addition, Learning Genie software understands the data monitoring and reporting that Head Start programs need to meet. As such, the software includes a data dashboard and reporting tools to help educators meet these requirements.

The software has been continuously updated to respond to the changing needs of educators and families who are experiencing distance learning due to Covid-19. These include the following features:

  1.     Data for safe reopening and compliance, including health screening assessments completed by parents, contactless check-ins/outs, and a real-time dashboard for easy tracking 
  2.     Support for distance and blended learning, including virtual learning events, digital media, activity tracking, and portfolio development 
  3.     Family engagement through communication programming that includes messaging, auto-translation, and text to speech  

Aside from Head Start-specific applications, incorporating educational software has myriad advantages for both educators and families. For educators, the software can save time spent communicating with families, tracking progress, and creating portfolios. For parents, educational software provides a link to their child’s teacher and a window into their day-to-day activities. Following are a few features that are incorporated into Learning Genie:

  • Parents can interact through an app on their phone, through which teachers can send messages and reminders. 
  • Parents can receive parenting tips and recommendations from educators. 
  • Teachers can share learning resources and let parents know what their children are learning on a given day. 
  • Teachers can take videos and pictures of the children throughout the day and send them to parents. 
  • Teachers can quickly and easily print progress reports for parent–teacher conferences. 
  • Educational programs can save money on portfolio materials like binders, paper, ink, and folders by keeping paperless portfolios. 

All in all, using educational software can help both educators and parents stay on track and up-to-date. In addition, data dashboards and reports can help the program know where attention is needed and what needs to happen to meet its goals. 

Is Your Child Ready for Early Head Start?

The short answer is: yes, if your child is at least six months old, they can enroll in Early Head Start.

Early Head Start enrolls children from 6 months to 2 years in age and accepts all children within the age range. Potty training is not a requirement for children enrolling in a Head Start program, nor do children need to meet specific developmental goals. The only requirement is for families to be within the income range, as defined yearly by the federal government.

But, what if your child has special needs? Will Head Start accept children with an IEP or IFSP? Again, the answer is yes. Your child will work with a multidisciplinary team to determine the least restrictive environment for learning based on the child’s IEP or IFSP.

Head Start is an effort to level the playing field and expand access to early education for all children. Enrolling your child in an Early Head Start program from a young age will provide them with the tools they need to be successful and happy students as they progress through their learning experience. 
Learn how, we at Learning Genie, can help you do that! We’re dedicated to changing the lives of Head Start families. Learning Genie’s Family Engagement app has been proven to increase your communication and improve your children’s attendance rates.