In Focus: Head Start/Early Head Start

Aug 14, 2014  |  PERMALINK »

Head Start Children, Families, Staff, and Programs in 2013

By Christina Walker and Stephanie Schmit

Head Start programs provide poor children and their families with comprehensive early education and support services. Each year, programs are required to submit a Program Information Report (PIR) to the Office of Head Start on participating children, pregnant women, and families, as well as the staff serving the Head Start population.

In 2013, the Head Start program served more than 1.1 million children, approximately 166,000 of whom were under the age of 3, and 15,400 pregnant women through Head Start (HS) preschool, Early Head Start (EHS), and Migrant and Seasonal Head Start (MSHS) programs combined. HS preschool served 85 percent of all federally funded slots, with EHS and MSHS each serving 12 and 3 percent of slots respectively. The 2013 appropriation for all Head Start programs was just over $8 billion; however, federal budget cuts (known as sequestration) were in effect during this school year, resulting in reduced funding for this and other federal programs. While some Head Start programs managed sequestration by reducing the number of children served, others cut back schedules or made other cuts in their budgets.

The program information data demonstrate how important Head Start services are in the lives of these children and families. In 2013, the PIR data showed that:

  • Seventy-five percent of families accessed at least one family service through their Head Start program. The most frequently accessed services were parent education (50 percent) and health education (47 percent).
  • At the end of their Head Start enrollment, 97 percent of children had continuous access to medical care, 96 percent had health insurance, and 96 percent were up to date on their immunizations.
  • Sixty-three percent of families using Head Start included at least one employed parent, and fifteen percent of families had at least one parent in school or job training.
  • Ninety-four percent of pregnant women enrolled in EHS received prenatal health care and 76 percent received postnatal health care. Additionally, 92 percent of pregnant women had health insurance at the end of the program year, 40 percent received a dental examination, and 31 percent accessed mental health interventions (a decrease of 4 percent from the previous year).
  • In the Head Start Preschool Program, 95 percent of teachers had at least an associate degree (A.A.) in early childhood education or a related field—a 2 percent increase from 2012. In addition, 67 percent of teachers had a bachelor’s degree (B.A.) or higher in early childhood education or a related field—a 5 percent increase from 2012.
  • In the MSHS program, 98 percent of children had a medical home for ongoing medical care and 91 percent had a source for ongoing dental care by the end of the program year. 

Read more about Head Start preschool, Early Head Start, and Migrant and Seasonal (new this year) participants, families, and staff. 

View state-by-state Head Start and Early Head Start data through CLASP's unique web-based DataFinder.

Jul 16, 2014  |  PERMALINK »

Meeting Children’s Mental Health Needs in Child Care and Early Education

By Christine Johnson-Staub

More than half of children under age 18 have been diagnosed with at least one mental health disorder, according to a new report by Child Trends and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. While the authors make the case for reforming health and mental health services to increase access for children and youth, they also present broader recommendations to support child wellness, emphasizing healthy child-adult relationships, along with positive routines and practices for children. Their approach has implications for services, family engagement and support, and professional development in early childhood settings.

  • Serving children in high-quality child care settings that offer comprehensive services to families is important both to offer children consistent care and routines, and to identify children and families in need of support. High-quality early childhood programs ensure that young children access developmental screenings that may uncover potential mental health problems. According to early findings of the National Survey of Early Care and Education presented at the recent Head Start National Research Conference, almost all (97.9 percent) Head Start centers offer assistance with developmental screening, which helps identify mental health concerns. Nearly all (88.5 percent) public pre-kindergarten programs offer screening, as do 73.4 percent of private early childhood programs.
  • Caring for children with family stress and potential mental health concerns, as well as related behavior challenges, is an urgent training need for the early childhood field. One approach to building the capacity of early childhood staff is the mental health consultation model. An increasing number of states offer programs serving young children some kind of mental health, health, or behavioral consultation, in which the consultant can provide training and guidance in identification of mental health concerns, referral to and coordination of follow-up diagnosis and treatment, and strategies to support the child’s development and learning. 
  • Finally, the report suggests that two-generation approaches using effective family engagement strategies  provide parents with the skills they need to manage their children’s behavior and mental health needs, while also potentially identifying needs of the adult for mental health or other services. These types of two-generation approaches can be particularly successful in strengthening the capacity of both parents and children. Parent and child wellbeing are inextricably linked to one another, and challenges to either can interfere with family economic success and positive child outcomes.

Policymakers can support child wellness and increase access to mental health services by looking for opportunities to incorporate comprehensive services and related supports into their child care quality, professional development, and financing systems. Expanding access to high-quality programs like Early Head Start and Head Start can also make mental health services more available to those children who are most vulnerable.  While supporting child wellness and increasing access to mental health services is a challenge, high-quality child care and early education settings provide an opportunity to identify and serve young children at risk, while building and supporting the family’s capacity to meet their mental health needs. 

Jul 9, 2014  |  PERMALINK »

A Two-Generation Approach to Policy

By Stephanie Schmit

In a forum earlier today, co-hosted by CLASP and the Foundation for Child Development (FCD), panelists discussed two-generation policy solutions to reduce poverty. Panelists highlighted local innovation, as well as opportunities for large-scale federal and state policy changes to improve educational opportunities from early childhood to community college to workforce development. With diverse perspectives and experiences, the panelists shared a common vision that the circumstances of poor families are too important and too widespread to continue our current public policies without rethinking how to serve families as a whole, rather than adults and children independently. Fortunately, we have many opportunities to take action.

A new CLASP brief examines major federal and state policy areas for large-scale change that better support families as a whole. Two-generation policies reflect strong research findings that the well-being of parents is inextricably linked to children’s social-emotional, physical, and economic well-being. And at the same time, parents’ ability to succeed in school and the workplace is substantially affected by how well their children are doing. Despite growth of local two-generation programs, which combine services for parents and children, little attention has been given to two-generation approaches to large-scale policy change. These opportunities include:

  • Pair education and training pathways with child care and early education. Identifying opportunities for better policy choices that would make it easier to pair education and training pathways with early education would help both parents and children. This would require rethinking program design throughout many policy areas, including Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), workforce development, higher education, child care, and Head Start.
  • Expand early childhood home visiting programs through state and federal investments, and seize other opportunities to help parents and young children in their very vulnerable early years. Home visiting programs offer a variety of voluntary, family-focused services to expectant parents and families with new babies and young children in the families’ homes. Many home visiting programs have a two-generation approach, focusing on the parenting skills and needs of parents while providing child development activities, although this varies tremendously depending upon the model used.
  • Improve child care policies for both children and parents. Continuity and stability of care can improve children’s early education as well as adults’ work stability.  Removing work schedule verification requirements and allowing for broader authorizations can make child care assistance more usable for parents with work schedule challenges.  Linking child care enrollment policies with those of other public benefits can also reduce the burden on parents to get and keep subsidies.
  • Improve labor policies for low-income workers.  A comprehensive package of improvements in labor policies, including an increase in the minimum wage, advance notice of job schedules, the right to request and receive flexible and predictable job schedules, minimum hours, and paid family and medical leave and paid sick days, would support low-income workers in their role as parents.
  • Expand access to health care and mental health treatment. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) offers a game-changing opportunity. The ACA tears down major barriers to depression treatment and provides many mothers with health insurance for the first time. The benefit package includes mental health (and substance abuse) treatment, access to primary and preventive care, as well as, prevention screening and quality measures to target depression.

Read the full brief here>>

Watch the webcast here>>

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