Early Head Start - Early Childhood Education - Pedagogy

Early Childhood Education

Early Head Start


Early Head Start is a federal, two-generation Head Start program, or low-income pregnant women and fathers, and children ages birth to three and their families. The program was created by the Head Start reauthorization legislation in 1994. The 1998 Coats Human Services Reauthorization Act increased Early Head Start funding to 10 percent of the Head Start budget. As of 2004, the program had expanded to 708 American communities serving approximately 68,000 children and their families in all states and in many Tribes and Nations.

While Early Head Start is a child development program, it has a two-generation focus. Programs can select to offer families one of four program options: home- based (in which families receive weekly home visits and the option of biweekly group socialization), center-based (in which children and families receive quality center-based services and parenting education), combination (in which families receive specified combinations of home-based and center-based services), and locally designed options. Program options are selected after programs complete community needs assessments every three years. Early Head Start is a distinct program within the Head Start family of programs and follows the Head Start Program Performance Standards.

Early Head Start programs serve families whose incomes are at the poverty level or below and who have greatest needs unmet by other community services. Across all Early Head Start programs approximately a fifth of families do not speak English as their primary language. At least 10 percent of enrollment must be made available to children with verified disabilities. Typically, about a third of parents are teens at the time of the birth of the Early Head Start child and typically fewer than half of the families have two resident parents.

The following notable features have been instituted during Early Head Start’s brief program life:

Research. The Head Start Bureau instituted a rigorous, random assignment evaluation in 1996, carried out by Mathematica Policy Research, Columbia National Center for Children and Families and fifteen research universities. Together, the researchers formed the Early Head Start Research Consortium, which oversaw the evaluation and completed local research and cross-site studies. 3001 children and families were assessed at ages fourteen, twenty-four, thirty-six months and again before kindergarten entry. A fifth-grade follow up begins in 2007. At age 3 (at completion of the program), results from the evaluation showed that Early Head Start had a broad pattern of significant impacts across a wide array of child and parent outcomes and in nearly all program subgroups. There were relatively large effect sizes found in fully implemented programs providing both home visits and center-based services. The kindergarten follow-up study showed that a number of the program impacts remained two years after children left the program and that formal care and education during the preschool years also supported gains from the zero to three program. Many lessons for program improvement were drawn from the research findings. Subsequently, a mental health research consortium and a survey of program performance have been instituted. Research reports and Research to Practice briefs can be accessed at: http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/opre/.

Training and Technical Assistance. While Early Head Start is served by Head Start T/TA activities, special infant-toddler focused training has been provided by the Early Head Start National Resource Center located at Zero to Three, Washington DC. http://www.ehsnrc.org.

Special Initiatives. Since its inception, a number of initiatives have enabled the program to focus on areas of special need. These have included the Hilton Special Quest program to develop expertise in working with infants and toddlers with disabilities; the Child Care Partnership Initiative to build community-level expertise in Early Head Start child-care partnerships; the Child Welfare Services Demonstration for serving children in the child welfare system within Early Head Start; the Enhanced Home Visiting Demonstration to develop model programs for kith and kin care; the Fatherhood Demonstration to develop model programs for involving fathers; the Culturally Responsive and Aware Dual Language Education Project; Operation Parenting Edge, and StoryQUEST: Celebrating Beginning Language and Literacy.

Further Readings: Administration for Children and Families (2002). Pathways to quality and full implementation in Early Head Start programs. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; Administration for Children and Families (2002). Making a difference in the lives of infants and toddlers and their families: The impacts of Early Head Start. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; Administration on Children, Youth and Families (2001). Building their futures: How Early Head Start programs are enhancing the lives of infants and toddlers in low-income families. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; Boller, K., R. Bradley, N. Cabrera, H. Raikes, B. Pan, J. Shears, and L. Roggman (2006). The Early Head Start father studies: Design, data collection, and summary of father presence in the lives of infants and toddlers. Parenting Science and Practice, Special Issue Early Head Start Fathers and Children 6(2/3), 117-145; Lombardi, J., and M. M. Bogle (2004). Beacon of hope: The promise of Early Head Start for America’s youngest children. Washington, DC: ZERO TO THREE Press. Love, J., L. Harrison, A. Sagi-Schwartz, M. H. van IJzendoorn, C. Ross, J. Ungerer, H. H. Raikes, C. Brady-Smith, K. Boller, J. Brooks-Gunn, J. Constantine, E. Kisker, D. Paulsell, and R. Chazan-Cohen (2003). Child care quality matters: How conclusions may vary with context. Child Development 74, 1021-1033; Love, J., E. E. Kisker, C. Ross, H. Raikes, J. Constantine, K. Boller, J. Brooks-Gunn, R. Chazan-Cohen, L. B. Tarullo, P. Z. Schochet, C. Brady-Smith, A. S. Fuligni, D. Paulsell, and C. Vogel (December, 2005). The effectiveness of Early Head Start for 3-year-old children and their parents. Developmental Psychology 41(6), 885-901; Peterson, C., S. Wall, H. H. Raikes, E. Kisker, M. Swanson, J. Jerald, J. Atwater, and W. Qiao (2004). Early Head Start: Identifying and serving children with disabilities. Topics in Early Childhood Special Education 24(2), 76-88; Raikes, H., and R. N. Emde (2006). Early Head Start: A bold new program for low-income infants and toddlers. In N. Watt, C. Ayoub, R. H. Bradley, J. E. Puma, W. A. LeBoeuf, eds., The Crisis in Youth Mental Health: Early Intervention Programs and Policies. Westport, CT: Praeger, pp. 181-207.

Helen Raikes