Data Show Critical Role of Head Start in the Lives of Poor Children and Their Families

By Stephanie Schmit

Head Start (HS) and Early Head Start (EHS) provide poor children and their families with vitally important early education and family support services. In 2012, the Head Start preschool program served over 946,000 young children and their families and Early Head Start served more than 151,300 children under age 3 and 16,175 pregnant women. CLASP’s new fact sheets on Head Start preschool and Early Head Start, based on Program Information Report (PIR) data from the 2011-2012 school year, explore the characteristics of children and families served by the programs, as well as the programs themselves and their staff.

Program data demonstrate the critical role Head Start programs play in the lives of poor families.  For over one million children and their families, Head Start brings access to services that they may otherwise go without. For example, nearly all Head Start preschool children have obtained a medical home for routine care and source for ongoing dental care (97 and 95 percent respectively) by the end of the program year. Most Head Start (91 percent) and Early Head Start (86 percent) children receive a medical screening and nearly all (91 and 96 percent, respectively) who require follow-up treatment receive it.

Children’s parents benefit, too. Head Start provides support services to families, including access to health screenings, referrals, and follow-up support; parenting resources; and social services. Eighty-one percent of Early Head Start families accessed at least one support service in 2012 ranging from parenting education to emergency and crisis intervention. Head Start preschool parents access services at a slightly lower rate. Seventy-five percent of Head Start preschool families accessed at least one support service in 2012, with parenting education (50 percent) and health education (46 percent) accessed most frequently. Ninety-three percent of pregnant women enrolled in EHS received prenatal health care and 75 percent received postnatal health care.

Head Start staff are critical to the success of the participants in the programs and their families. Teacher education qualifications continue to increase for Head Start programs. In 2012, the percent of EHS teachers with at least an associate degree increased 3 percent from the previous year to 57 percent. Twenty-nine percent of EHS teachers have bachelor’s degrees in early childhood education or a related field (up from 27 percent in 2011). Additionally, 57 percent (up 11 percent from the previous year) of home visitors had a bachelor’s degree (B.A.) or higher in early childhood education or a related field. In 2012, 62 percent of HS preschool teachers had a bachelor’s degree or an advanced degree (up 5 percent from 2011).

Despite the depth and breadth of services provided through Head Start, the cumulative impacts of budget reductions through sequestration and the uncertainty of the recent government shutdown and future budget decisions have placed Head Start programs and families at risk. As a country, we’d be well served by putting aside partisan gridlock, investing in our country’s future, and addressing the needs of our youngest and most vulnerable children. Record high child poverty rates make the need for Head Start and additional investments in high-quality child care and early education more important than ever.

Read more about Head Start preschool and Early Head Start participants, families and staff.