Introduction: – this section explains the predicament preschool children from low income families faces when they join school. This section also introduces Head Start program; when it was started and who it targeted.
Head Start Program: – the motivation behind inception of Head Start Program is clearly explained in this section. The section also explains how Head Start program affects young children’s overall development. Components of Head Start program namely education, health, family involvement and social services are outlined. This section explains the impact of the program to children and families with disabilities.
Conclusion: – the paper reaches a conclusion that Head Start program has played a major role in improving children development especially intellectual and cognitive capabilities of children from disadvantaged families.
While children from disadvantaged background face challenges such as lack of self-confidence and health problems as they enter school for the first time, their counterparts who are more fortunate face this new challenge with hope, confidence and assurance. These unfortunate children lack the will to proceed and this may affect their performance in the first years in school as well as in the later years. Child development experts are of the view that it is possible to brighten the future of children from these low income families by strengthening their ability to cope with the school environment and the overall child’s environment.
In 1964, child development a group of child development and education specialists designed a program which would help communities to overcome the challenges faced by disadvantaged preschool children. The reports from these experts became a blue print for the Head Start programs. Project Head Start was aimed at providing underprivileged preschool children with a comprehensive program that would help these children meet social, emotional, health and nutritional needs. The program mainly targeted children from low income families. The program was received by parents, child development experts, community leaders and educationists with a lot of enthusiasm (http://www.head-start.lane.or.us/general/HHS-brochure.html).
2.0 Head Start Program
Head Start is an all-inclusive program designed to promote a strong and healthy development of children from disadvantage families (low income families and families with disability). The program serves children from birth to the age of fivers years. It also targets the families of these children and pregnant women as well. Among other things, Head Start provides opportunities to foster emotional, intellectual and social growth of a child. Children from low income households are also provided with meals in school (Kafer, 2004).
Head Start program is under the Department of Health and Human Services; it is a program in the Administration of Children, Youth and Families. In each year, Head Start assists children and families from all the states including the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and many migrant children. Currently the program is serving approximately 800,000 children per year. Since its inception in 1965, Head Start program has been receiving considerable support from the government and thus it has been able to serve about 13.1 million children and their families (Kafer, 2004).
According to the Head Start legislation, grant from the United States federal government should not exceed 80% of the total cost of the program. 20% must be a contribution from the community, either in form of money or services (http://www.head-start.lane.or.us/general/HHS-brochure.html). Since the needs of the children vary from one community to another, Head Start programs have been designed to put into consideration the capabilities of the local staff and the community’s resources. As a result, the program has allowed local sponsors to participate in providing home-based and school-based developmental programs. The program is administered by approximately 1,400 community based organizations which are nonprofit making entities. The Department of Health and Human Services is responsible for awarding grants through its regional offices throughout across the 50 States. Grants for the migrant programs and American Indian are awarded at Washington D.C.
The period from birth to the age of three is very critical to the development and healthy growth of a child. On this basis, Head Start, introduced Early Head Start which caters for infants and toddlers. This program targets families with children under the age of three years and pregnant women. Early Head Start has significantly increased in size and now it is serving all the 50 states, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia.
To ensure that Head Start children and their families are receiving quality services, Head Start has set up high standards based on research on the best practices to deal with young children and their parents. The stakeholders involved in research on the best methods include health experts, teachers and the staff. Head Start programs have maintained efficient and effective management staff that has helped delivery of quality services to the people.
(a) The components of Head Start Program
Head Start program comprises of four main components namely, education, health, parent or family involvement and social services. To meet the goals of each of these four components there are performance standards which were adopted in 1975 ((http://www.head-start.lane.or.us/general/HHS-brochure.html)). The educational program is aimed at meeting the educational needs of each child as well the needs of the community (including cultural and ethnic characteristics of that community). The education component offers learning experiences to promote the child’s intellectual, emotional and social development. The children are introduced to numbers and concepts of words. They are trained to develop self-confidence by being taught how to express their feelings and how to interact with others. In addition the children are involved in both indoor and outdoor games and activities.
Most children from disadvantaged backgrounds have a rare contact with a doctor. The Head Start program therefore, makes arrangements for preschool children to receive health care including mental health and nutritional health. In general the program puts emphasis on the need to identify early health problems. For example, Head Start gives a complete examination on medical and dental health including hearing and vision examinations, immunizations and identification of disabling conditions.
Since many preschool children entering Head Start do not receive good meals at home, they are served with one meal and a snack a day which at least provide a third of their daily meal. Nutritional activities of each Head Start program are supervised by a nutritionist who teaches parents how to prepare health and well balanced food. In order to foster social and emotional development of these kids, Head Start programs provide mental health services and psychological services. Each Head Start is provided with a mental health professional who provide training to the parents and the staff on mental health and early attention to a child’s special problem.
In the development of a child, the influence of parents is crucial. Involvement of parents in Head Start programs is very important in program planning and operating activities. Most parents sit in the local programs committees and policy councils. They are fully involved in management activities and in decision making. Some other parents also volunteer as aides to teachers, storytellers, cooks etc. Through seminars on child development, workshops and staff visits in homes, parents are taught about children needs and educational activities that can be undertaken at home (Singh, 2003).
There are Head Start Parent and Child Centers whose main objective is to improve the developmental process of the child by improving parent’s knowledge on their children, parenting knowledge, strengthening families and preventing other developmental deficits. To achieve these objectives, Head Start Parent and Child Centers provide a comprehensive health care for the preschool children and their families, education on nutrition, social services for the families and assisting the families to overcome personal and economic difficulties.
The fourth component of Head Start is social services which help families meet their needs by assessing and building upon their individual strengths. The social services staff conducts family needs assessments and avail information on available resources, how they can be obtained and how best they can be utilized. They are also involved in recruiting and enrolling children as well as offering assistance in times of crisis and emergencies.
In 1972, congress mandated Head Start to have 10% of their enrollment as disabled children (Winzer & Mazurek, 2000). This was due to the fact that children with disabilities can learn better with other children than in a separate group. Head Start provides a package of developmental services to children with disabilities together with their families. The staff also works closely with other stakeholders to offer services that help meet the special needs of children with disabilities.
To improve performance of the program, staffs in all areas are given training and provided with opportunities for career development. This gives them morale and motivation and thus improves on their job performance. For example Child Development Associate offers training in early childhood education, child development and other related areas to both professional and non-professional staff. National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) is a national program that assesses and certifies child caregivers.
Like any other project, Head Start faces some problems that interfere with its operations and that the population particularly the low income households. These problems include increased drug abuse, illiteracy, teenage pregnancies, neglect and child abuse among others. To deal with such problems, Head Start has resulted into demonstration projects that target the population. For instance, a number of community-based organizations help families secure adequate housing, health care and nutrition. These demonstration programs are aimed at administering Comprehensive Child development Act of 1988 which was intended to provide intensive and comprehensive support services to the children from the time of birth up to when they join elementary school (Arnold, 2003).
Head Start provides funds for demonstrating how its programs can effectively work with other organizations and community agencies to successfully deal with the problems of illiteracy, unemployment and drug and substance abuse among the families under the Head Start programs. These demonstration projects focuses on involving the families in helping to minimize incidences of substance abuse, increasing the chances of employment among the parents and also increasing the level of literacy in adults and parents supported by the program. Head Start is expanding its programs extensively to cater for rising economic and social needs among the low income families. It is increasing its coordination with other agencies that deals with child abuse, neglect, alcohol addiction, drug abuse etc to comprehensively and effectively deal with problems facing the child and the family as a whole.
(b) Parents and Children with Disabilities
Head Start has expanded it activities to cater for parents with disabilities and ensure that its curriculum complement abilities of these parents. Head Start has a mandate to serve families and children with disabilities through its individualized program. The program conducts a widespread outreach to parents and children with special needs and who most need its services. Those who are diagnosed with disorders are given the first priority for enrolment and are also considered for a waiver on most requirements. Children considered for special needs and thereof require special services includes children with hearing impairments, those suffering from mental disorders, children with speech impairments, blindness and emotional disturbance. The program also gives priority to those children that experience delayed physical developmental growth or delayed adaptive development (Singh, 2003).
Head Start gives priority to children of parents with disabilities in two ways. The first is where children whose parents have disabilities are categorized as disabled since their parents’ constraints and limitations may contribute to the delayed development of the child. For instance, a child whose parents are deaf may have delayed speech abilities and therefore he/she can be considered disabled. Secondly, children of parents with disabilities may also have disabilities. Research has shown that parents with disabilities are most likely to have children with disabilities and only a small number of disabled children are from families with non-disabled parents (Arnold, 2003). This categorization allows children from parents with disabilities to get a waiver on income requirements and a priority in enrollment.
Those children who are not disabled are in some cases given a priority due to their parents’ disabilities. However, in such cases the priority is offered on case by case criteria putting into consideration the child needs. To be able to administer as case by case enrollment, Head Start provides training and creates awareness for the staff and specialists in social services so as to understand the extent of parent’s disabilities and therefore the need for the services. This way, only the neediest are given the priority for enrolment.
Head Start curricula are designed to provide the disabled children with highly customized programs. These programs are designed to accommodate the individual needs of the child and hence allow the children to move at a pace they can cope with. Teachers and social service specialists pay home visits to these children and get a chance to interact with the family members and find out the special needs of the families as well as that of the child. Depending on the family background of the child, social service specialists and teachers give individualized classroom programs and services that the child requires. This may include extra help in language and speech skills, behavior modification as well as social and cognitive development.
Since Head Start training programs are highly customized to meet the needs of each child, an instructor or a teacher can request for specific specialists to work with the children. For instance a teacher handling children whose parents are deaf, he/she may request for a speech therapist. Other Head Start institutions have a social service staff specialized in matters regarding children disabilities. In some cases the training programs begins even before a disable child enters the school. Social service specialists, child development specialists, teachers and agency people may visit a family to evaluate the extent of the child’s disability and decide whether it warrant immediate measures to be taken; for example, assignment of an aide to the child or close evaluation and monitoring of the child.
Through Head Start the country has focused its attention on the importance of child development up to the age of five years. The program has a significant impact on the quality of services given to young children concerning their development, day care services and participation in local activities. There is also some considerable impact on the support given to low income households. Head Start programs countrywide have influenced the health institutions as well as academic institutions to positively respond to the needs of underprivileged children and their families.
Involvement of family in classroom and managerial programs is such an integral part of the Head Start program since it helps them participate in the program’s activities. Head Start has put more efforts to ensure that most of the activities are accessible to all parents including parents with disabilities. For example, it provides sign language interpreters for parents with hearing impairments including the deaf to enable them participate fully in all programs. Parents who are not in a position to access Head Start centers due to various forms of disabilities are provided with home based services. Although this does not achieve some of the program’s goals like social interaction with other parents and children, it still remains necessary as it helps cater for all families that may need special help.
It is important to recognize the efforts of the volunteers in making this program a success. All Head Start programs have greatly benefited from volunteerism. All kinds of people including college and university students, retired citizens and parents have offered the much need help to improve the services offered by Head Start. Their assistance comes in all manner of ways, starting with donations, assisting with classroom activities, taking children for outings, assisting in educating parents and more noticeably renovating and maintenance of the Head Start centers and sites.
The program has bore fruits especially in improving the intellectual and cognitive capabilities of children from disadvantaged families as well as families with disabilities. Head Start children are performing the same as their counterparts in regular school or even better. The number of special class placements and grade retentions has dropped down significantly. The program’s campaign on training adults and parents from low income families has a strong impact on the parent’s ability to build a better life for their kids. The program has created an enabling environment for the participation of individual from low income families to participate in making decisions as well as formulating policies.
However, Head Start program should concentrate more on revolutionary rather than evolutionary changes. A thorough review of its programs is necessary to cover the entire country and give effective and promising services. Head Start should also improve it expertise on its disability awareness. It should come up with explicit policies that cater for the needs of the disabled families so as to consistently provide a consistent framework for accommodating the families with disabilities. Finally, Head Start should improve training of its staff and increase awareness and sensitization especially on children and families with disabilities in order to deal with them effectively (Lombardi, 2003).
Head Start Program was started in 1964 to help communities overcome challenges faced by disadvantaged preschool children from low income families as well as families with disabilities.
The program would help these children meet social, emotional, health and nutritional needs.
Head Start program is under the Department of Health and Human Services; it is a program in the Administration of Children, Youth and Families.
United States federal government funds 80% of the total cost of the program. 20% must be a contribution from the community, either in form of money or services
Components of Head Start Program
Head Start program comprises of four main components namely, Education, Health, Family and Social Services.
Education: It offers learning experiences to promote the child’s intellectual, emotional and social development.
Health: Head Start program makes arrangements for preschool children from low income families to receive health care including mental health and nutritional health. In general the program puts emphasis on the need to identify early health problems.
Family Involvement: Involvement of family in classroom and managerial programs is such an integral part of the Head Start program since it helps them participate in program planning and operating activities.
Social Services: Help families meet their needs by assessing and building upon their individual strengths. Social service professionals are involved in recruiting and enrolling children as well as offering assistance in times of crisis
Parents and Children with Disabilities
Head Start has a mandate to serve families and children with disabilities such as hearing impairments, mental disorders, speech impairments, blindness and emotional disturbance.
Children of parents with disabilities are categorized as disabled since their parents’ constraints and limitations may contribute to the delayed development of the child.
Head Start curricula are designed to provide the disabled children with highly individualized programs.
Challenges faced by Head Start
Head Start faces some problems such as substance abuse, illiteracy, teenage pregnancies, child abuse, neglect, etc.
To deal with such problems, Head Start has resulted into demonstration projects that target the population. For example, Head Start collaborates with community-based organizations to help families secure adequate housing, health care and nutrition etc.
The program has a significant impact on the quality of services given to young children concerning their development, day care services and participation in local activities.
The program has bore fruits especially in improving the intellectual and cognitive capabilities of children from disadvantaged families as well as families with disabilities.
However, Head Start program should concentrate more on revolutionary rather than evolutionary changes. A thorough review of its programs is necessary to cover the entire country and give effective and promising services.
Arnold, C. (2003): Observing Harry: Child Development and Learning 0-5, ISBN 0335213014, 9780335213016, Open University Press.
Gunn, J. B., Fuligni, A. S. & Berlin, L. (2003): Early Child Development in the 21st Century: Profiles of Current Research Initiatives, ISBN 0807743364, 9780807743362, Teachers College Press.
Head Start: A Child Development Program. Retrieved on 24th October 2008 from: http://www.head-start.lane.or.us/general/HHS-brochure.html
Kafer, K. (2004); Head Start for Poor Children? World and I, Vol. 19, February Issue.
Lombardi, J. (2003); Time to Care: Redesigning Child Care to Promote Education, Support Families, and Build Communities: ISBN 1592130097, 9781592130092, Temple University Press.
Singh, D. K. (2003), Families of Head Start Children: A Research Connection Journal article; Journal of Instructional Psychology, Vol. 30, Issue 1.
Winzer, M. A. & Mazurek, K. (2000): Special Education in the 21st Century: Issues of Inclusion and Reform; ISBN 1563681005, 9781563681004, Gallaudet University Press.