What Head Start Can Do

Head Start was created in 1965 as a national program to serve children 3 to 5 years old and their families. Early Head Start (EHS) was added in 1994 to target the needs of pregnant women, infants and toddlers, in response to research that demonstrates the incredible importance of children's earliest years on brain development and the readiness to learn.

What Head Start Can Do

With the addition of Early Head Start, Head Start offers comprehensive programming for children birth to five years old and their families.

Head Start is a research-based program that helps prepare children for success in school and in life.  Head Start is one of the most researched and evaluated early childhood programs in America.  Research studies have shown that children enrolled in Head Start have increased achievement test scores, decreased grade repetition and special education needs, and incresaed graduation rates.  Dr. Steven Barnett of the National Institute of Early Education Research (NIEER) documents these studies.

Head Start also benefits the children it serves and society in general by reducing crime and its costs to crime victims.  The national organization Fight Crime Invest in Kids, composed of thousands of police chiefs and other law enforcement leaders, shows the relationship between a quality early education in Head Start to positive outcomes for children later in life.  Click here to read more.

Why Are Comprehensive Services Critical for Children?

Comprehensive services are critical to early learning. Head Start targets the nation’s poorest children, those living in families at or below the poverty level as well as children with disabilities or other special needs. Learning is not purely a cognitive exercise. It was founded on the principle that children cannot learn when they are hungry, or sick, or too worried about their home situation to concentrate in school. The program emphasizes not only children’s cognitive development but also their social, emotional and physical development and has a very strong parent involvement component. Preparing children to learn is about more than just learning numbers or letters. It is also about giving children the skills and abilities that will make children good learners throughout their school careers—curiosity, an interest in learning, and the ability to pay attention in class. Regardless of their innate abilities, children learn better when they have good physical and mental health and have families whose own needs are met so they can devote their energies to nurturing and educating their children.

  • Researchers show that even mild undernourishment, the kind most frequently found in the U.S., impairs cognitive function and can do so throughout the life of a child.
  • One study found that children participating in a quality early childhood program that included a strong health as well as a parent involvement component had higher rates of high school completion and lower rates of school dropout.

Recognizing that children do not come in pieces, Head Start—along with early educational experiences—provides health screenings, immunizations, mental health counseling, dental services, nutritional meals and parental supports. While the Administration’s plan claims that states will have to offer comprehensive services, it eliminates the standards that require them, skimps on the resources to prove them, and includes no enforcement mechanism to ensure that states would provide children these supports.

What Are the Benefits of Early Head Start?

Early Head Start serves pregnant women, infants and toddlers.  Research clearly demonstrates that to have a positive impact on the lives of children, we must start early. Recent findings from brain research show that the first three years of life are critical in children’s brain development, and that their brain development is far more susceptible to adverse influences than had been realized. What these studies show is that the earlier the investment, the greater the pay-off. Early Head Start has demonstrated the ability to make a positive impact on the lives of children and families. For example:

  • Early Head Start programs produce positive cognitive impacts for children at age 2.
  • The program showed significant impacts on language development from ages 2 to 3.
  • Children were more engaged with their parents, more attentive to objects during play, and were rated lower in aggressive behavior.

Click here to read a national research study about Early Head Start. 

Kansas Head Start

Funding The majority of Head Start funding in Kansas is federal, with grants from the Department of Health and Human Services directly to local grantees. Forty-two (42) percent of grantees in Kansas are school districts, 30 percent are not-for-profit agencies, and 25 percent are Community Action Agencies. One grantee is a university. In the past two years, the Kansas Legislature has approved $3.4 million in State General Funds to expand Kansas Early Head Start.

  • Funded enrollment in Kansas Head Start programs is over 9,000 children. Actual enrollment (the number of children touched by Head Start each year) is more than 11,000.
  • Head Start operates in 86 Kansas counties; Early Head Start is in 48 counties.
  • Head Start serves 57 percent of eligible three- to five-year olds, but Early Head Start reaches less than 7 percent of eligible infants and toddlers.
  • 90 percent of families must be income-eligible to qualify for Head Start, meaning their household income is at or below the Federal Poverty Level ($21,200 for a family of four). At least 10 percent of children served have special needs.
  • There are 28 Head Start programs in the Kansas Head Start Association (KHSA), including two based in Nebraska (serving Kansas Counties) and two Native American programs.
  • Kansas Head Start has 407 classrooms in almost 200 centers.

The Kansas Head Start community numbers over 2,000 staff and more than 17,000 volunteers. More than half of those volunteers are parents.