History of Head Start

The overall goal of Head Start is to increase children’s school readiness. For 45 years, Head Start has provided educational and comprehensive child development services to young children from low-income families.

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The idea for Head Start was originally conceived in 1964 by a task force that recommended the development of a federally sponsored program to help disadvantaged preschool children get ready for school. In addition to services for children, the program was designed to assist families to become economically self-sufficient and provide opportunities for parents to help plan and run their local programs. In 1965, the Office of Economic Opportunity launched Project Head Start as an eight-week summer program. Congress expanded the program later that year. In 1994 Early Head Start was established to include infants, toddlers and pregnant women.

Since its origin, Head Start has continued to grow and is now available in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands and Pacific Insular Areas. Head Start programs are also available for American-Indian and Alaska Native (AIAN) and migrant/seasonal children and families. Holyoke•Chicopee•Springfield Head Start, Inc. provides services to migrant and seasonal farm workers working in MA and their children ages birth to five. There are currently no AIAN programs in MA.

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In 2009, more than 15,500 children in MA received Head Start/Early Head Start services. The state of Massachusetts currently receives $116,800,000 in federal Head Start funds to provide early education, health and social services to low-income children and families. These funds are awarded through grants to local programs in cities and towns throughout the Commonwealth. Programs are required to raise 20% in non-federal funds as a condition of their grants.

The Office of Head Start (OHS) is a program within the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The Region 1 Office of the Administration for Children and Families in Boston oversees Head Start operations in Massachusetts and the other New England states.

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The Improving School Readiness for Head Start Act was reauthorized by Congress in December 2007. The Office of Head Start, led by its Director, Yvette Sanchez Fuentes, is responsible for ensuring that Head Start regulations, the Program Performance Standards, include the most recent scientific advances within the field of early childhood education.

As a result of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009, an additional 795 participants are able to enroll in MA Head Start and Early Head Start programs.

To learn what the Office of Head Start is doing to improve school readiness outcomes among Head Start children, see the Improving School Readiness & Promoting Long-Term Success: The Head Start Roadmap to Excellence.