Head Start is the largest federal early childhood program in the United States. The program has evolved from its original form as a summer program to a comprehensive set of services for economically disadvantaged young children and their families.
Its origins are based in the social and political struggles of the Civil Rights era, renewed scientific interest in environmental influences on the course of human development, and the promising results of educational intervention programs for children from economically disadvantaged backgrounds.
Head Start emphasizes the importance of the early identification of health problems. Every child is involved in a comprehensive health program, which includes immunizations, medical, dental, and mental health, and nutritional services.
For example, East Coast Migrant Head Start Project's early education services are designed to put each child we serve on a path to school success. The culturally-responsive curriculum targets the language, literacy, and other school readiness skills of older toddlers and preschoolers in each of their languages.
Children from birth to age five whose families meet the Federal poverty guidelines are eligible for Head Start services.
An essential part of Head Start is the involvement of parents in parent education, program planning, and operating activities. Many parents serve as members of policy councils and committees and have a voice in administrative and managerial decisions. Participation in classes and workshops on child development and staff visits to the home allow parents to learn about the needs of their children and about educational activities that can take place at home.
Significant attention has been giving to Head Start's role in preparing children for school success. School readiness is a strong theme in the 1998 federal legislation that reauthorizes funding for the Head Start program.
It has been called "the most important social and educational experiment of the second half of the twentieth century".
Head Start programs are federal-to-local programs, which means that the funding goes directly from the federal government to the local agencies providing Head Start services. A Head Start Collaboration Office is provided in every state. In South Carolina that office is located at the Department of Social Services. This federal grant funds a Head Start Collaboration Director, who ensures that all low-income children are served. The Director also encourages partnerships between Head Start and other agencies involved in the care and education of young children.
Congress established the EHS program as part of the reauthorization of the Head Start program in 1994. In creating this program, Congress acted upon evidence from research and practice which illustrates that early intervention through high quality programs enhances children's physical, social, emotional, and cognitive development; enables parents to be better caregivers and teachers to their children; and helps parents meet their goals, including economic independence. Such programs answer an undeniable need.