Early Head Start is a two-generational program designed to provide high-quality child and family development services to low-income pregnant women and families with infants and toddlers. It was created by Congress in 1994 in response to the increased awareness of the science of early brain development and an understanding that programs that enroll families during pregnancy, or in children’s formative early years, have the greatest potential to make a lifelong impact on children’s development.
The mission of Early Head Start is to:
- Promote healthy prenatal outcomes for pregnant women enrolled in Early Head Start programs,
- Enhance the development of very young children, and
- Promote healthy family functioning.
Early Head Start offers the full array of Head Start services that are tailored to address the unique nature of infant and toddler development and reflect best practices in working with children (birth to age 3). Services are designed to foster positive attachments between very young children and consistent, responsive caregivers. Early Head Start believes that minimizing the number of different caregivers and promoting strong positive relationships that continue over time is critical to the healthy development of very young children. As with preschool Head Start, Early Head Start may be provided in centers, family child care homes, or through home visiting services.
Early Head Start research has demonstrated that the program has an impact across a wide range of child and parenting outcomes that relate to children’s future school success. Children who participated in the program performed significantly better in cognitive, language and social-emotional development than their peers who were not enrolled in Early Head Start. Early Head Start parents also demonstrated more positive parenting behavior and read to their children more often. To find out more about the importance of children’s early experiences, go to the National Center for Infants, Toddlers and Families at Zero to Three.
To find out whether your local Head Start program provides services for infants and toddlers, search for an Early Head Start program.