Every child deserves the chance at a high-quality life, and that starts with early childhood care and education. However, despite the bright dreams parents have for their children, there’s no denying that child care comes with a high price — and parents often have no choice but to endure the struggle or give it up altogether.
Early childhood care and education in the U.S. is an increasing burden, with child care costs rivaling university tuition. If you’re a parent looking for alternative opportunities — something affordable, if not free — that will help you prepare your child for education while keeping them healthy, you may consider government programs like Head Start.
In this article, you can discover what Head Start is, who it can help, and its life-changing benefits.
What Is Head Start
Head Start is an education program funded by the federal government, with the main goal of promoting school readiness for children from low-income households. It supports pregnant women, infants, toddlers, and preschoolers through services designed for home and family care centers.
Aside from preparing the children for school, Head Start also helps families to access medical, dental, and mental health services. Furthermore, the program trains parents about the value of their involvement in a child’s life by giving them volunteer opportunities and special activities.
As it is a federal program, it’s important to remember that Head Start comes with strict requirements. You have to check with your state to identify whether you and your child will be eligible to participate in a Head Start program.
What Programs Fall Under Head Start
Head Start programs offer services through thousands of agencies — a mixture of schools, non-profit organizations, and community action groups. In these organizations, several programs fall under the Head Start umbrella, each specifically designed to cater to the needs of these specific populations.
Aside from the general Head Start program, these include:
1. Early Head Start (EHS)
Early Head Start is available for families from the moment a person gets pregnant until the child reaches three years old. After that, the child may transition to Head Start or enroll in a Pre-K program. The services at EHS include pre-natal support, follow-up consultations, weekly home visits, and many more.
2. American Indian and Alaska Native (AIAN) Head Start
Since 1965, Head Start has been offering a customized program for the AIAN communities. AIAN Head Start has provided education while ensuring that AIAN’s heritage is preserved. Aside from introducing basic education, AIAN Head Start offers traditional language and cultural practice education to these families.
3. Migrant and Seasonal Head Start (MSHS)
Migrant and Seasonal Head Start is concentrated on the children of families in the agricultural labor sector. As migrant families often move to different geographical locations every year, their children might have trouble getting started with education.
Since its creation in 1967, the MSHS has helped children, and at present, they can cater to up to 30,000 children of migrant and seasonal farmworker households.
How Does Head Start Work
The Head Start program sustains a child’s growth while exposing them to a positive learning environment. The services of Head Start include:
1. Early Learning And Development
A key component of a child’s education has individualized learning experiences, even at a young age. At Head Start, the child will be exposed to language, mathematics, and science concepts through play, planned, and spontaneous interactions.
Aside from that, the child will also develop social and emotional skills through their interaction with others.
2. Health And Physical Development
For a child to fully explore and experience the world around them, they must be healthy. Head Start programs encourage children to stay healthy through medical, dental, and health services, health screenings, and nutritious meals.
3. Family Well-Being
Finally, Head Start also ensures that the child’s parents and family members are supported and aided toward their family goals. They are provided opportunities for financial security, housing, and continued education for their child.
How To Apply For Head Start
Head Start services are available for children whose families have an income below the poverty level. This program is also available for children in families receiving different public assistance, like Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
To get started with your application, you should first find the Head Start program nearest you. This local program in your state will provide you with the requirements you must submit to enroll your child. The process includes filling out forms, providing documents, and answering questions.
There are cases where there are not enough spaces to cater to your child because of the needs in the community, even if you are eligible. In cases like this, you can ask to be added to the waitlist and be patient.
Frequently Asked Questions
If you are highly interested in applying to Head Start for your child, here are some additional things you must know about the program:
Head Start is a free education program that serves children from three to five years old. However, an Early Head Start program also caters to pregnant women and children under three years old.
Head Start began as an eight-week project in 1965 and has served 36 million children since then.
If you meet the eligibility requirements, Head Start programs are available for children from low-income families for free.
Get Early Childhood Services From Head Start
Head Start programs open children’s doors to free high-quality, comprehensive early childhood services. If you want to learn more about this program, contact your local Head Start office.
On the other hand, if you want to find opportunities for single parents to get free education, check out this article by Gov Relations!