Head Start Programs: Local Support to Families

Having a family costs a lot of money. However, not everyone may be in the financial position to handle some hefty costs that come along with having kids like child care. Pre-schools are known for being pricey. In fact, the average cost for preschool is $889 a month. That racks up to spending over $10,000 every year! Which is exactly why there are government programs that can help people handle this expense. One popular option is Head Start.

What is Head Start?

Head Start programs can help qualifying low-income infants, toddlers, and preschool-aged children with their school readiness. Head Start programs can take place in a bunch of different settings like family child care centers, the children’s actual house, and more. Besides focusing solely on the children, these programs also focus on engaging the parents (or other relevant family members) in building positive relationships for family wellness. The best part? Parents even have the ability to take on leadership roles and have a say in how the program operates.

Different Head Start Programs

Head Start programs focus on three main aspects of children which are:

  • Early Learning and Development
  • Family Well Being
  • Health

Early Learning and Development

Children pick up a lot from their environment which is why these programs focus on improving a child’s readiness for school. These programs understand the importance that comes from relationships with adults, and planned out yet fun instruction. Some areas of development that these programs work on include:

  • Social Skills
  • Emotional Wellness
  • Language Skills
  • Literacy Skills
  • Mathematics
  • Science Concepts

Besides focusing on some of the base skills, these programs also focus on early learning experiences. That means improving the parent’s knowledge of their child. When parents (or grandparents, primary caregivers, foster parents, etc.) have a clear understanding of their children then they can provide a more individualized approach. These programs also aim to make sure that the child has an easy transition once they reach kindergarten!

Family Wellbeing

Not every family has the same dynamics. That is why there are a lot of times where family well-being is at an all time low. Head Start programs focus on giving parents and families the opportunity to achieve family goals through support services. Family goals can include:

  • Housing Stability
  • Further Education
  • Financial Stability
  • Strong Family Bonds


Overall health and development is important, we can’t just focus on the brain! It is important to focus on health and physical development as well. That is why Head Start programs allow children to have a safe and healthy learning experience both indoors and outdoors. There are also other health benefits like:

  • Health Screenings
  • Nutritious Meals
  • Connections to Medical, Dental, and Mental Health Services

Besides focusing on children, Head Start programs can also help families with mental health consultation. This consultation can help children get support when dealing with trauma and allows families to focus on the child’s needs.

Understanding Head Start

Now that you know the basics, let’s take a look at this assistance opportunity a little bit more in-depth. Head Start programs are completely free and available to qualifying low-income children from birth until they are 5 years old. Depending on the Head Start program, there may even be transportation services available for enrolled children so they can take part in the program consistently. Head Start programs are also available to children with disabilities, children with special needs, children in foster care, as well as families (and children) dealing with homelessness.

Head Start programs are available throughout the nation. In fact, these programs are able to provide support services through 1,600 agencies that are in local communities. Typically Head Start programs are offered by non-profit organizations, community action agencies, or schools. These programs have been able to help millions of kids and even give services to more than 1 million children annually across the United States.

It’s also important to note that not all Head Start programs look the same. In fact, there are a variety of program types that reflect the needs of the community that it is helping. Some major types of Head Start programs include:

  • Head Start
  • American Indian and Alaska Native (AIAN) Head Start
  • Early Head Start (EHS)
  • Migrant and Seasonal Head Start (MSHS)

Head Start

This is what most people think of when they picture a Head Start program. This type of Head Start program can help children between three years old and five years old. Typically these programs are offered by centers. However, depending on the specific Head Start program, the services that are offered can be different. For example, sometimes children and families could get service from professionals like educators or family service staff through home visits!

American Indian and Alaska Native (AIAN) Head Start

Like we said earlier, Head Start programs vary depending on the needs of the community. That is why there are AIAN Head Start programs. These programs were launched in 34 AIAN communities back in 1965. From there, plenty of children have been able to get support. In fact, today, roughly 41,000 children of AIAN heritage have been able to benefit from both AIAN and non-tribal opportunities. Since AIAN Head Start programs specifically keep in mind the community, these programs can provide support for traditional language skills, cultural practices, and honor the heritage of AIAN children.

Early Head Start (EHS)

Each stage of childhood results in different needs. For example, a newborn cannot eat peas while a 5 year old can. That is why there are EHS programs. These programs aim to serve infants, toddlers, and even pregnant women. EHS programs are available for families until their child turns 3 years old. At that point if they were still eligible for the program they would transition into Head Start programs (instead of EHS programs) which are designed for children between three years old and five years old.

Families that receive support from EHS programs can typically expect to see the services provided in the child’s home. This is done through weekly home visits which aim to support the child’s development and family goals. Pregnant women a part of this program can even benefit from prenatal support!

We will sound like a broken record but we just want to remind you! Head Start programs vary by area so while typically services are provided at the child’s home, other programs are located in centers!

Migrant and Seasonal Head Start (MSHS)

Families that take part in agricultural labor can benefit from this Head Start opportunity. These MSHS programs take into consideration both migrant farmworker families and seasonal farmworker families. This type of Head Start has been around since 1967 and is currently funded to serve over 30,000 children.

Eligibility and Application

Not everyone is eligible to benefit from this program. That’s because Head Start programs are meant for people who are at or below poverty level. Poverty level is determined by the Poverty Guidelines specified by the government.

If you want to apply for this program then you will want to see the Head Start program for your location. You can use the government Head Start Locator to find the nearest program! For further assistance you can contact 866-763-6481 between Monday to Friday (from 8 AM to 6 PM).

When it comes down to your local program, they will give you information on specific requirements needed in order to enroll your child. Information they tell you includes answering any questions you may have, give you forms, and let you know what documents you need to provide. Since this program can help families so much, there may not be available spots for your child. If there is no space for your child then you will want to make sure to be placed onto a waiting list.

Bottom Line

There are a variety of different support opportunities to consider from the government. Head Start programs are a popular opportunity that people can benefit from. This program focuses on:

  • Early Learning and Development
  • Family Well Being
  • Health

However, many people may not realize that there are different types of Head Start programs. Besides the normal Head Start program, there is:

  • American Indian and Alaska Native (AIAN) Head Start
  • Early Head Start (EHS)
  • Migrant and Seasonal Head Start (MSHS)

If you are interested in benefiting from this opportunity, you will want to check out the Head Start locator to find the closest program to you. You also have the opportunity to reach out to 866-763-6481 if you need further assistance.

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