When Head Start was first launched in 1965, the idea of providing comprehensive health, nutrition, and education services to children in poverty was revolutionary, if not radical. The Head Start Model, developed over the decades has been built on evidence-based practices and is constantly adapting—using the best available science and teaching techniques to meet the needs of local communities.
Head Start programs offer an ideal laboratory for the study of effective child development and learning. The Department of Health and Human Services funds extensive research every year that reinvigorates practices, ensuring that programs meet children's needs by creating a deep understanding of how they learn and what supports healthy development. Children enter Head Start with serious socioeconomic disadvantages that can hold them back for life.
Head Start supports families facing difficult circumstances and seeks to mitigate obstacles to learning in the early years.
Flash forward 50 years, President Barack Obama in his 2014 State of the Union address called for more focused and dedicated work to ensure vulnerable children and families have access to high quality care and education in their earliest years. His FY2016 budget, included a commitment to expand and strengthen child care and early education programs, specifically increasing the duration of Head Start to a full school day and year. Clearly, providing early learning opportunities for at-risk children has become not only a focal point for lawmakers, but a shared national commitment.
What makes the whole child and whole family model so powerful? Nobel-prize winning economist James Heckman has suggested that the social-emotional development cultivated by programs may be the true contributor to long-term impacts, and health benefits which range from decreased child mortality to adult health behaviors. Furthermore, an additional motivator behind children's success through elementary school and beyond are very likely parents. By helping families who are struggling with poverty and other socio-economic challenges achieve their goals for education, employment, and housing, Head Start plays a transformative role across two generations.
Head Start takes a comprehensive approach to meeting the needs of young children. There are four major components to Head Start: