Health in Head Start
From its earliest days, Head Start has maintained children’s health as a core component of its program model. Poverty too often goes hand-in-hand with poor health and limited access to necessary medical services. Head Start’s comprehensive approach to child development ensures children have access to health insurance, developmental screenings, immunizations, well-child visits, dental and nutrition services, necessary medical attention, healthy meals, and connections to other social service programs. As the original two-generation model in early education, Head Start also provides services to the families it serves.
Head Start’s multi-generational approach focuses on providing opportunities and addressing the needs of both children and their parents. Head Start provides families with a variety of services that help enhance family stability and reduce children’s exposure to adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), such as access to mental health services, substance abuse treatment, domestic violence services, and affordable housing. As a core part of Head Start’s family engagement model, parenting education impacts parents’ use of physical discipline and level of engagement in educational activities with children, as well as promotes healthy parent-child relationships and home environments, which ultimately reduce children’s involvement with child protective services.
Head Start programs ensure children receive vision, hearing, and developmental screenings within 45 days of enrollment. These and other screenings are critical to children’s physical health, as well as their readiness to learn. Nutritious meals and oral hygiene, as well parent education in these areas, is also central to Head Start’s approach to preventative health care.
Maternal and Infant Health
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends 10 well-child visits in the first two years of a child’s life. By intervening as early as possible, Early Head Start programs prevent and address childhood trauma, hunger, health issues, and other outcomes associated with growing up in poverty.
Early Head Start serves more than 220,000 infants, toddlers, and expecting families each year. Programs partner with local health providers to provide resources for these visits and ensure a comprehensive and coordinated array of health services for children under the age of three and their families. In addition, Early Head Start enrolls nearly 12,000 pregnant women who receive prenatal care to reduce complications for both parents and baby during pregnancy and birth.
Oral health is an essential component of Head Start’s comprehensive care. Local partnerships ensure every child has access to dental care.
Home visitors provide comprehensive child development services in the home environment, including support of the parent-child relationship.
Oral health is a key aspect of a child’s school readiness. Head Start promoting oral health habits in early childhood.
Early Childhood Services Director Jessica Moore’s inclusivity during COVID-19 created a network she hopes will be a model of collaboration going forward.
Deb Hendricks at Marion Community Schools Head Start took a creative approach to help families and staff cope with the pandemic: a therapy dog.