In Focus: Head Start/Early Head Start

Jun 2, 2016  |  PERMALINK »

Policy Statement Advances HHS and ED’s Shared Vision to Improve Access to High-Quality Early Education Opportunities for Dual Language Learners

By: Christina Walker

Today, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the U.S. Department of Education (ED) released a joint statement, and corresponding toolkit, to support early childhood programs, states, and tribal communities in promoting the development and education of young dual language learners (DLLs)—children who come from homes where a language other than English is spoken. Because early childhood is a critical time for acquiring language skills, these children are often learning two (or more) languages at the same time.  

Changing demographics necessitate that early childhood programs across the country be able to appropriately serve DLLs, as approximately one in four young children in the U.S. may be considered a dual language learner. According to Census data from 2000, 27 percent of children under age 6 came from homes where at least one parent spoke a language other than English, and 2008 Head Start data show that 29 percent of Head Start preschoolers come from a home where a language other than English is spoken. While the majority (71 percent) of school-age children who are DLLs come from households where Spanish is spoken, overall, DLLs come from diverse family backgrounds speaking a large number of languages and dialects and with varying English language proficiency.  

Early childhood is a critical time to support the development of language skills; and while DLLs may face academic challenges, there are many documented benefits of bilingualism, which suggest support for children’s home language and English is essential in the early years. Young children who learn more than one language starting in their earliest years show improved executive functions such as working memory, greater cognitive flexibility, a better ability to sort out relevant versus irrelevant cues, and improved language skills. These traits are associated with early bilingualism. Long-term, children who grow up learning two or more languages reap cognitive, linguistic, cultural, and economic benefits.

Supporting young children’s language development in both English and their home language is a difficult task and often requires additional supports for teachers, children, and families. Moreover, the early childhood system has yet to fully and universally implement best practices to foster the teaching and development of children who are DLLs. Therefore, as the number of young DLLs grows, policymakers, as well as early childhood educators, should consider the recommendations provided in this policy statement as important steps to better meet the development and learning needs of these young children. For example, states could collect data on the number of DLL children living in their communities to help inform outreach, resource allocation, professional development efforts, and state planning. Furthermore, early childhood programs can ensure that the workforce has the necessary training to support dual language learners and create culturally responsive learning environments. Taking these steps can help support the future economic success of these children, their families, and our nation.

This policy statement is the most recent effort from the Obama Administration to better support DLLs in early childhood programs. For example, it follows on the heels of the proposed changes to the Head Start Program Performance Standards released last summer, which underscored the strength of bilingualism and furthered Head Start standards to implement practices that support dual language development.

CLASP commends HHS and ED on the release of this joint policy statement, and we share their commitment to better serving these young children in early childhood programs and policies. CLASP is ready and eager to work with state policymakers and early childhood advocates to ensure young dual language learners have access to the high-quality education opportunities that they need to succeed in school and beyond. 

Read the Policy Statement on Supporting the Development of Young Children Who Are Dual Language Learners in Early Childhood Programs here >>

Read the Dual Language Learners Toolkit here >>

Feb 24, 2016  |  PERMALINK »

2014 Data Demonstrates Crucial Role of Head Start for Children and Families

By Anitha Mohan and Christina Walker

Head Start programs provide high-quality early childhood education and comprehensive services to poor children under 5, pregnant women, and their families. New fact sheets from CLASP highlight 2014 data on participation by children, pregnant women, and families, as well as the staff serving the Head Start population, in Head Start Preschool, Early Head Start (EHS), and the Migrant and Seasonal Head Start (MSHS) programs.

Head Start served more than 1 million children and more than 14,000 pregnant women in 2014. The 2014 Head Start appropriation was $8.6 billion. Data collected by the federal Office of Head Start demonstrates the critical role Head Start services play in the lives of these children and families.  In 2014:

  • Ninety-seven percent of children had continuous access to medical care and health insurance, and were up to date on their immunizations by the end of the Head Start year.
  • Seventy-four percent of families accessed at least one family service through all Head Start programs, the most frequently used services being parent education (51 percent) and health education (46 percent).
  • Ninety-four percent of pregnant women enrolled in EHS received prenatal health care and 74 percent received postnatal health care.

Further, Head Start staff are essential to the success of the children and families. In the Head Start Preschool Program, 96 percent of teachers had at least an associate’s degree (A.A.) in early childhood education or a related field, and 71 percent of teachers had a bachelor’s degree (B.A.) or higher in early childhood education or a related field—a 4 percent increase from 2013. In EHS, 59 percent of infant and toddler teachers and 76 percent of home visitors had at least an associate's degree in early childhood education or a related field.

Read more about Head Start PreschoolEarly Head Start, and Migrant and Seasonal participants, families, and staff. 

View state-by-state Head Start data  through CLASP's unique web-based DataFinder. Datafinder breaks down data by all programs as well as Early Head Start, and Head Start Preschool (a brand-new feature).

Feb 16, 2016  |  PERMALINK »

New CLASP Analysis Highlights Disparate Access to CCDBG and Head Start by Race, Ethnicity

By Christina Walker and Stephanie Schmit

According to new CLASP analysis, access to the core federal early childhood programs—the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG), Head Start, and Early Head Start (EHS)—is not only sharply limited for all eligible children but especially limited in particular states and for particular racial and ethnic groups. Most striking, in part because of constrained federal budget resources, is the low level of access that Hispanic/Latino children have to CCDBG, especially in fast-growing states. The report is a unique analysis of participation of eligible children in these programs by race/ethnicity and state.

Nationally, too few eligible children, regardless of background, are served by these important programs that help low-income children and parents access early childhood programs and progress economically. Federal and state investments severely limit access to high-quality child care and early education for many children. And for groups of children in particular states, access is extremely limited. Near flat funding or minimal increases perpetuate inequities, as there is no way to increase access for one group without reducing access for another. Fewer than half of eligible preschool-aged children are able to participate in Head Start, fewer than one in six children receive child care assistance, and fewer than 5 percent of infants and toddlers participate in EHS. Yet, CLASP analysis shows that for some children—and in particular states—the likelihood of accessing these programs is even lower.

CLASP finds:

  • While only half of eligible children are served, participation nationally in Head Start preschool did not differ dramatically for all racial and ethnic groups analyzed (54 percent for eligible Black children and 38 percent for eligible Hispanic/Latino children, not including children served in the separately administered Migrant and Seasonal Head Start program). The history of Head Start’s grounding in the civil rights movement and its federal-to-local structure suggest that targeting underserved racial and ethnic communities can in fact improve access for minority communities.
  • CCDBG provided lower levels of access for all children as well as sharply less access for eligible Hispanic/Latino children. Compared to 13 percent of all eligible children ages 0-13 and 21 percent of eligible Black children ages 0-13, only 8 percent of eligible Hispanic/Latino children are served. Because of the large number of state policies that impact access to subsidies, it is possible that state decisions make particular groups of children more or less likely to obtain child care assistance.
  • No more than 6 percent of eligible children in any racial/ethnic group has access to Early Head Start. This universally low percent is driven by the size of the federal investment in EHS.

State-level differences in access by eligible children to the Head Start, EHS, and CCDBG are also striking:

  • Hispanic/Latino infants and toddlers’ access to EHS ranges from 1 percent in Georgia to 16 percent in Nebraska. Asian infant and toddlers’ access ranges from less than 1 percent in Georgia to 9 percent in Minnesota.
  • For Black children, the share served in CCDBG ranges from 3 percent in Maine to 42 percent in Pennsylvania. For Hispanic/Latino children, the share ranges from 1 percent in Mississippi to 20 percent in New Mexico.
  • The share of Hispanic/Latino children served in Head Start preschool (not including the migrant program) ranges from 13 percent in South Carolina to 84 percent in Minnesota.

While more analysis is needed to fully understand the causes of differential access across racial and ethnic groups, the brief offers some hypotheses and insights. Stagnant federal funding and outdated funding formulas prevent states with growing or diversifying child populations to target new resources to underserved communities. State-level decision making in CCDBG may result in state policies that contribute to inequities in access.

This analysis cannot answer all of the questions it raises but is intended to begin a conversation about how to ensure equal access to critical early childhood programs across low-income communities of all backgrounds, as well as how to ensure that all children participating in CCDBG and Head Start benefit from access to quality services. We include a number of areas for potential next steps to improve available data and explore and uncover the causes of differential access. Increased federal and state investments are core to ensuring that more children benefit from CCDBG and Head Start; however, an intentional focus is necessary to reduce differences in access across racial/ethnic communities and to better understand disparate impacts of access on communities of color.

View CLASP analysis of access to CCDBG and Head Start by race and ethnicity>>


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