Head Start is a familiar name with a variety of social connotations for services. For some, it’s an outlet for young preschool-aged children to receive educational support before entering full-time school. For others, it’s a way of obtaining childcare for families with working caregivers. A health services center, a community-building organization, and a safe space for children, Head Start serves our community in all of these capacities and more. While the main purpose of Head Start is to provide comprehensive school-readiness support to children and families, making sure future learners are ready for school extends beyond basic skills. Starting in the 1960s with President Lyndon B. Johnson’s efforts to decrease national poverty, the program’s adaptations have stretched to include services that support the development of the entire child, including their family and overall health. The mission of the Community Action Council (CAC) and Head Start now is not only to alleviate the impacts of poverty on our serviced fifteen-county community but also to prevent the future impacts of poverty.
What is Head Start?
Head Start’s mission is to promote comprehensive school readiness and provide high-quality education, health, social, and family support services to children aged zero to five from low-income backgrounds and children with disabilities and to pregnant women. Head Start programs are administered by local entities, such as CAC agencies, in urban and rural areas across the nation and operate in a way responsive to its community’s specific needs and characteristics. Head Start programs are not daycare programs. They offer a research-based educational curriculum that prepares children for long-term academic success, providing them with the resources to become educated, skilled, and humane adults. Childcare is a large financial burden for many families, especially those with low income, and can inhibit the livelihoods of everyone involved. Childcare providers can also be extremely expensive, hard to access, operate under limited hours, and offer inadequate support for children with disabilities. Head Start aims to maximize each child’s opportunity for success in the classroom through a comprehensive approach to learning that focuses on school readiness.
Family Components of Head Start
Head Start provides all children with an education that fosters each child’s physical and socio-emotional development. Each child in the program receives individualized attention, but Head Start’s reach extends far beyond the classroom. On top of CAC’s home-based model, Head Start also supports parents and other adult family members’ lives. Head Start understands that the connection between a successful family and a successful child starts with ensuring everyone feels supported. Along with providing direct critical childcare services for children ages zero to five from low-income backgrounds and/or with disabilities, Head Start also provides full support for impacted individuals with their two-generational approach to combating poverty. This way of approaching poverty understands that early childhood development outcomes depend on the entire family context. To support the two-generational approach to poverty prevention, Head Start provides at least ten programs for parents and other adult family members:
- Positive Parent/Child Relationships
- Job Training & Placement
- Enrollment in College/Trade School
- Completion of GED/Diploma/Certificate/Degree
- Parent Engagement
- Connections to Peers and Communities
- Access to Affordable Healthcare
- Income Tax Preparation Assistance
Head Start also provides health and nutrition support to both children and their families, with 97% of Community Action Council’s Head Start families receiving health insurance.
In an effort to break the cycle of multigenerational poverty, Head Start has become a family-centered program that provides never-ending support to its members through an array of policies and practices that focus on building successful connections between family members and children. Full parental involvement in children’s education and development is strongly encouraged and made possible through variations of the traditional Head Start program and a policy council that consists of CAC staff and family representatives. The specialized staff and programs of Head Start have provided families and children from low-income backgrounds and children with disabilities with easy access to childcare, health and nutrition services, postsecondary education support, and workforce development opportunities for many years. Working with a community of invested experts and family representatives furthers the mission of CAC and strengthens our entire community.
Head Start provides thousands of children and their families with the necessary tools to succeed. In 2019, it was estimated that 11,386 families were eligible for Head Start services. After the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, that number shot up to 19,120 families. Programs located throughout Kentucky and operated by CAC were able to serve 2,364 children, pregnant women, and their families during the COVID-19 pandemic. CAC persevered alongside Head Start and served a similar amount of families; however, the pandemic caused a statewide struggle. Head Start currently assists only 12% of the eligible population, and many communities and families are still in need.
In order to serve more families, teachers for the Head Start program are in great demand. With more staff and resources, Head Start would have the capacity to serve the remaining 88% of the eligible population in our community. Open interviews for various positions in Head Start classrooms will be conducted at Malone’s on Tates Creek Road in Lexington on Wednesday, May 17th from 5:30 PM – 8 PM. Interested teachers are strongly encouraged to apply. Applications are also available on commaction.org under the “Careers” tab. If you want to help with Head Start’s mission, there are also volunteer opportunities throughout the year. After a basic background check, you will gain the opportunity to assist with Head Start and other related programs. If you wish to make a donation, contact your local agency for more information.
Thank you for reading this blog. We at Transylvania and CAC hope this information can educate and benefit you as you take the first steps towards a healthier lifestyle opportunity for you and your families. We students at Transy appreciate the opportunity from CAC to help in this endeavor.