Head Start gives children a head start in life

The 20th Anniversary of Early Head Start (EHS) is being celebrated this year.

Congress extended Head Start services to expectant families and children from birth to 3 years of age and their families when they reauthorized the Head Start Act of 1994.

This momentous decision acknowledged how important the period from prenatal to age 3 was to children’s development and well-being. Now, 20 years later, EHS has grown from the original 68 programs to nearly 1,000 who serve more than 150,000 children and families a year.

May 18th, 2021 marked the 56th anniversary of Head Start’s inception as part of the Great Society programs initiated under President Lyndon Johnson, based on President John F. Kennedy’s New Frontier agenda.

Within the last 20 years, research has proven that the child’s social and physical environments, beginning in the womb, affect the physical connections being created in the brain.

EHS works with each family as they create a nurturing, responsive bond with their child, and supports the family’s ability to use everyday routines as learning experiences. These ongoing, positive experiences build connections in the brain which, in turn, provide a foundation for healthy social and emotional development and meaningful learning.

Researchers also have learned through longitudinal studies that children who participated in EHS performed much better than their peers at the age of 3. For example:

  • EHS children generally scored higher on assessments of cognitive development and on receptive language
  • Programs had favorable impacts on several aspects of social and emotional development at age 3

The studies also showed how parents were affected:

  • EHS parents were more likely to be emotionally supportive, more likely to read to their children daily, and less likely to engage in negative parenting behaviors
  • EHS programs had some impacts on parents’ progress toward self-sufficiency
  • EHS mothers were less likely to have subsequent births during the first two years after they enrolled
  • Programs had favorable effects in several areas of fathering and father-child interaction

These and other positive impacts have added to EHS’s status as an evidence-based program. In fact, EHS was recognized by the current administration as one of 13 national evidence-based programs by the Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting program.

Early Head Start leads the way in providing quality services that improve outcomes for expectant families, babies and toddlers living in poverty.

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