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Family and Social Services Administration

Family and Social Services Administration

Office of Early Childhood and Out of School Learning Home > Head Start & Early Head Start > Overview of Head Start for Parents Overview of Head Start for Parents

Parents, who are interested in Head Start and want to learn more, may find quick answers to questions regarding Head Start programs and services.

Head Start Is…. a Federal program for preschool children from low-income families. The Head Start program is operated by local non-profit organizations in almost every county in the country. Children who attend Head Start participate in a variety of educational activities. They also receive free medical and dental care, have healthy meals and snacks, and enjoy playing indoors and outdoors in a safe setting.

Head Start helps all children succeed. Services are offered to meet the special needs of children with disabilities. Most children in Head Start are between the ages of 3 and 5 years old. Early Head Start, with services for infants and toddlers are also available at selected sites.

How Do I Apply for Head Start and Early Head Start? HHS/ACF/OHS 2009  English

Applying for Head Start and Early Head Start:  Contact the Head Start or Early Head Start program serving your community. They can explain the paperwork you should bring to apply.  Your local program will provide the required forms and answer your questions.

To find a Head Start or Early Head Start program near you, use the Head Start Locator. If you need more help to find a Head Start or Early Head Start program in your area, please call the Head Start Knowledge and Information Management Services toll free at 1-866-763-6481. We would be happy to assist you.

How Do I Apply for Head Start and Early Head Start? HHS/ACF/OHS 2009  English

Eligibility:  Children birth to five and pregnant women are eligible for Head Start (3-5) or Early Head Start (0-3 and pregnant women) if they are homeless, receiving TANF or SSI, or if they are in foster care.  Another way they are considered eligible is if the family’s income is determined to be at or below the federal poverty level.  Some grantees enroll a percentage of children from families with incomes above the Poverty Guidelines as well.
Families are encouraged to apply as program staff will determine eligibility.

What Head Start Can Offer Your Family: The right educational environment can benefit your child as well as your family. Parents may use this resource to answer their questions about services that are offered through Head Start. 

Head Start offers you a sense of belonging, other support services, and a chance to be involved in activities to help your whole family. You can take part in training classes on many subjects, such as child rearing, job training, learning about health and nutrition, and using free resources in your own community. Some parents learn the English language; others learn to read. Head Start also offers assistance to parents interested in obtaining a high school General Equivalency Diploma (GED) or other adult education opportunities.

If you have a family member with a special problem, such as drug or alcohol abuse, job loss, or other family crisis, your family can receive help through Head Start.

Head Start staff members refer families needing help to medical, social welfare, or employment specialists they know in the community, and will follow up to be sure you receive assistance.

You can become a Head Start volunteer and learn more about child development. This experience may later qualify you for training which can help you find employment in the child care field.

You can also have a voice in the Head Start program by serving on various committees. Parents' experiences in Head Start have raised their own self-confidence and improved their ability to make decisions.

Give Your Child a Head Start HHS/ACF/ACYF/HSB 1987 English

Your Child's Routine In a Head Start Program:     Most children who enroll in Head Start attend a half-day center-based program. However, some communities may operate a full-day program or provide Head Start services through a home-based setting. In a home-based program, staff called Home Visitors teach parents how to provide learning experiences for their own children.      

Some center-based programs offer children bus rides to and from home.

When the children arrive at the center, they are greeted warmly by their teachers. They put whatever they have brought from home in a place which is their own to use every day.

Classroom time includes many different activities. Some teachers begin the day by asking the children to sit in a circle. This encourages the children to talk about an idea or experience they want to share with others. In some centers, the children plan their activities. They may choose among art, playing with blocks or table toys, science activities, dancing to music, looking at books, or pretend housekeeping. Children can switch activities if they prefer another challenge.

Each day, they have time to work in a small group with other children and to play outdoors on safe playground equipment.

At lunchtime, children receive a nutritious meal and brush their teeth. All the children are taught to wash their hands before meals, and are encouraged to develop good personal and health habits. If they come for an afternoon session, they also receive a healthy snack.

Give Your Child a Head Start HHS/ACF/ACYF/HSB 1987 English

Eligibility for Head Start or Early Head Start:  Children from birth to age five from families with low income, according to the Poverty Guidelines published by the federal government, are eligible for Head Start and Early Head Start services.

Children in foster care, homeless children, and children from families receiving public assistance (TANF or SSI) are categorically eligible for Head Start and Early Head Start services regardless of income.

Head Start programs may enroll up to 10% of children from families that have incomes above the Poverty Guidelines. Programs may also serve up to an additional 35% of children from families whose incomes are above the Poverty Guidelines, but below 130% of the poverty line if the program can ensure that certain conditions have been met.

Pregnant women may also be eligible for Early Head Start.

Children with Disabilities or Special Needs:  The Head Start Act of 2007 requires that, beginning in fiscal year 2009 "not less than 10 percent of the total number of children actually enrolled by each Head Start agency and each delegate agency will be children with disabilities who are determined to be eligible for special education and related services, or early intervention the State or local agency providing services under section 619 or part C of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act [IDEA] (20 U.S.C. 1419, 1431 et seq.)."

If Your Child is Not Eligible for Head Start:  If you are ineligible for Head Start, the Child Care Aware program can help you in locating other childcare services in your community. To find the local child care resource and referral agency, please contact Child Care Aware toll-free at 800-424-2246. Web site:

Getting Involved with Head Start:  Head Start welcomes volunteers. By becoming a volunteer you can help in the classroom and on field trips, assist in renovating centers, and support parent education. Your volunteer experience may later qualify you for training which can help you find employment in the child care field. For information about volunteering please contact your local Head Start program. To locate a program near you visit the online national Head Start Program Locator Tool at