The premise of Head Start is simple: every child, regardless of circumstances at birth, has the ability to reach their full potential.

The Whole Child

  • Head Start is a comprehensive "whole child", family-focused preschool program designed to help low-income and at-risk 3 and 4 year old children and their families succeed in school and life. Head Start provides children with activities that help them grow mentally, socially, emotionally, and physically. Head Start children socialize with others, solve problems, and have other experiences that help them to become self-confident. The program ensures that young children get health checkups and treatment, oral health examinations, and are fed a nutritious hot meal every day.
  • Early Head Start’s programs are designed to provide the same kinds of comprehensive child development and family support services to families with children under age three, and pregnant women that are already involved in Head Start. Early Head Start’s services include home visits, health and nutrition services, and referrals to other social services that may be needed.
  • Children with disabilities are welcome in Head Start, as they reserve a minimum of 10% of their openings for children with disabilities. Special services are available to ensure that children can fully participate in all aspects of the program.

The Whole Family

  • Head Start and Early Head Start support parents in their role as primary caregivers and first, most important teachers of their children. Head Start focuses on the whole family, assisting parents with a wide range of family needs including job training, housing, employment, and parenting education. It also aims to guide families as they seek to meet personal goals and achieve self-sufficiency.
  • Parent involvement is encouraged in all aspects of the program, from assisting in the classroom to making decisions about program policies and activities through local parent-run policy councils.
  • Home visiting is an integral part of both Early Head Start and Head Start. Most of Idaho’s Early Head Start programs are home-based and include weekly home visits and twice monthly group socializations. Head Start includes home visits at least twice yearly.

The Head Start program is supported by federal funds through the Administration of Children and Families at the Department of Health and Human Services. Families wishing to enroll in Head Start or Early Head Start must meet income eligibility guidelines in order to enroll their child, but services are free.

Research shows that a high quality early childhood education experience produces a return on investment of between $4 to $17 based on savings in reduced education, social service and law enforcement costs.

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 is very likely their 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.

Program Components

Head Start takes a comprehensive approach to meeting the needs of young children. There are four major components to Head Start:

  • Education: Providing a variety of learning experiences to help children grow intellectually, socially, and emotionally.
  • Health: Providing health services such as immunizations, dental, medical, and mental health, and nutritional services, and early identification of health problems.
  • Parent Involvement: Involving parents in the planning and implementation of activities. Parents serve on policy councils and committees that make administrative decisions; participate in classes and workshops on child development; and volunteer in the program.
  • Social Services: Provide outreach to families to determine what services they need.

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.

In addition to life and school preparedness, Head Start is also the nation’s laboratory for early learning innovation. Head Start offers a unique whole child/whole family program design coupled with a delivery system that includes local programs, national standards, monitoring, professional development, and family engagement.

Head Start and Early Head Start Programs

Head Start and Early Head Start programs can select alternative service options to meet children’s needs. Programs decide which options to offer children and their families after completing an intensive community assessment of family needs. Programs reassess community needs every year and may change available options accordingly.

Home-Based Option: Head Start and Early Head Start services are provided to children and their families primarily through weekly home visits and bi-monthly group socializations. Referrals may be made for family support services.

Center-Based Option: Head Start and Early Head Start services are provided to children in a center-based program. Parents receive regular parenting education and family support through two home visits a year. Health services may be offered through the center and referrals made for other family support services.

Family Child Care Option: provide care and education to children in a private home or family-like setting.

Combination Option: Head Start and Early Head Start services are provided to children through a prescribed combination of home-based and center-based services.