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National Overview of Head Start & Early Head Start

Vermont Head Start Association ProgramsOur National Early Childhood Promise

Head Start and Early Head Start are federally funded, national child and family development programs.  Programs provide comprehensive services for pregnant women, low-income families and their children.  There are Head Start programs in all 50 states and almost every county in the U.S.

  • Head Start serves more than 900,000 low-income children and families on an annual basis nationwide.
  • Head Start serves children age 3 to 5 and their families.
  • Early Head Start serves pregnant women and children from birth until turning 3 and their families.

History of Head Start

Head Start was started in 1965, part of President Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty. Early Head Start was implemented in 1995, part of the 1994 reauthorization of Head Start.

Federal-to-Local Structure

The Office of Head Start within the U.S. Administration for Children and Families (ACF), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) administers Head Start.  It is a direct, federal-to-local program with more than 1,700 locally-based public or private organizations (called “grantees”) across the country.  The federal government directly funds and monitors these local programs.

Goals of Head Start and Early Head Start

  • To promote healthy prenatal outcomes for pregnant women (Early Head Start)
  • To promote children’s social competence and school readiness by enhancing the social, cognitive, physical and emotional development of children
  • To engage parents in their children’s learning and as the primary nurturers of their children
  • To help parents in making progress toward their goals (e.g., educational, literacy and employment), and involve parents in program decisions and development.
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