Head Start began in the 1960s as part of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s ‘War on Poverty' and was conceived based on the recommendations of a panel of childhood development experts. The program has since served more than 37 million children and their families and is a federally funded program. The fundamentals of Head Start promote the school readiness of children from birth through age five through a holistic approach, including early learning, health, nutrition, and family support services. The program's effectiveness has been proven through numerous research studies, which is part of the reason it has long received bipartisan support.
BCT Partners (BCT), a company that provides insights about diverse people that lead to equity, has been engaged with almost every Head Start programs over the past 10 years. BCT has worked closely with regional leaders to enhance their ability to implement more effective data analysis, information management, and management systems. As a result, BCT has been a first-hand observer of the program's effectiveness and outlines twelve reasons why Head Start is so crucial to achieving long-term equity.
Head Start children have better social skills, impulse control, and approaches to learning. Head Start children also show a decrease in problem behaviors, such as aggression and hyperactivity. (Aikens et al., 2013)
Head Start children make progress toward norms in language, literacy, and math. Head Start children also score at the norm on letter-word knowledge by the end of the program. (Aikens et al., 2013; Bloom and Weiland, 2015)
Obese, overweight, or underweight children who participate in Head Start have a significantly healthier body mass index (BMI) by kindergarten entry. (Lumeng et al., 2015)
When families participate in Head Start (as opposed to no Early Care Education or ECE), children are 93% less likely to end up in foster care, a correlation not found by participating in any other types of ECE. (Klein et al., 2017)
Mortality rates for 5- to 9-year-old children who attend Head Start are 33 to 50 percent lower than the rates for comparable children who were not enrolled in Head Start. (Ludwig and Miller, 2007)
Children who attend Early Head Start have significantly fewer child welfare encounters during their elementary years. (Green et al., 2014)
Head Start children have a higher likelihood of graduating high school, attending college, and receiving a post-secondary degree, license, or certification. (Bauer and Schanzenbach, 2016)
Among children who attended Head Start in the 1960s-70s, African American children who attended Head Start were 12% less likely to be arrested or charged with a crime than their siblings. (Garces et al., 2002)
Early Head Start parents offer more stimulating home environments, read more with children, use less physical punishment, and have higher levels of self-sufficiency. (Love et al., 2002)
Head Start parents are more likely to increase their own educational levels during their children's early years than other at-risk parents. (Sabol and Chase-Lansdale, 2014)
Head Start parents invest more time learning activities with their children, and non-resident fathers spend more days per month with their children. (Gelber and Isen, 2011)
The children of Head Start graduates are significantly more likely to finish high school and enroll in college. They are substantially less likely to become teen parents or to be involved in the criminal justice system. (Barr and Gibbs, 2017)
Although Head Start has had some critics question its’ long-term effectiveness, most studies have shown clear benefits not only for participating children but for their families as well. However, it only makes sense to look for ways to continue to improve program outcomes, including putting even more rigorous processes around measuring results. And if we want to reverse trends that show generational cycles of poverty, then we need to further invest in programs that yield results like Head Start.
If you are interested in putting your skills to work to help improve Head Start, click here to learn more about opportunities at BCT Partners.