The Importance Of Head Start

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The Importance of Head Start

The Importance of Head Start


Head Start began during the mid-1960s as part of President Lyndon Johnson's “War on Poverty.” The Economic Opportunity Act of 1964 authorized programs to help communities meet the needs of preschool-age children in disadvantaged circumstances (Zigler, 2004b). At the request of the federal government, a panel of child development exp erts created a report that became the framework of an eight-week summer program (Garces, 2002). This program, launched by the Office of Economic Opportunity, was named Project Head Start. Head Start was and still is a comprehensive effort to help end poverty by providing services to children age three to school-entry age who are from low-income families. These services were intended to meet the emotional, health, nutritional, social, and psychological needs of its participants (Barnett, 2005a). In 1969, the Nixon Administration transferred Head Start from the Office of Economic Opportunity to the Office of Child Development in the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (later the Department of Health and Human Services). The 1994 reauthoriza-tion of the Head Start Act established the Early Head Start program for low-income families with infants and toddlers. In total, the Head Start program has enrolled more than 23 million children since it began in 1965 (Slaven, 2006).

Today's Efforts Regarding Head Start

Today Head Start is a well-established program administered by the Head Start Bureau, the Administration on Children, Youth and Families, the Administration for Children and Families, and the Department of Health and Human Services (Barnett, 2005b). Programs are locally administered by community-based nonprofit organizations and local education agencies. Head Start grants are awarded by Department of Health and Human Services regional offices, with the exception of American Indian and Migrant Head Start programs, which are administered in Washington, D.C. Today Head Start is the most successful, longest running, national school-readiness program in the United States; it serves children and their families in rural and urban areas in all fifty states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Territories. This includes American Indians and children in migrant families (Zigler, 2006).

For fiscal year 2005, the $6.8+ billion budget provided services to 906,993 children, 57 percent of whom were four years old or older and 43 percent of whom were three years old or younger, at an average cost of $7,287 per child (Barnett, 2005a). More than 12 percent of the Head Start enrollment consisted of children with disabilities. Services for all children were provided by 1,604 different programs scattered across every state. Although paid staff numbers nearly 212,000 people, volunteers account for six times as many individuals working with children in these programs. Children are eligible to participate in Head Start if they are from low-income families or if their families are eligible for public assistance (Zigler, 2007). The Head Start Act establishes income eligibility for participation in Head Start programs based on the poverty guidelines updated annually in the Federal Register by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (Zigler, ...
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