Not surprisingly, we often think of government child benefit programs in financial terms. Government-sponsored programs like the Child Tax Credit and other tax breaks available to parents are highlighted prior to tax season and discussed throughout the year as reminders to families looking for financial relief.
However, one of America’s oldest child development programs gives more than a million children each year crucial benefits that can’t be bought — Head Start.
Since 1965, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Head Start program has assisted more than 30 million children from low-income families. It provides school readiness tools in a positive learning environment through services based on early childhood education, health and nutrition, and family well-being.
Free and federally-run, Head Start and Early Head Start are available to children from birth to 5 years from families whose income is at or below the poverty level, according to the federal government Poverty Guidelines (although the program may admit up to 10% of children from families above the guidelines, per benefits.gov.)
Building cognitive, emotional and social development during early childhood years can make all the difference when it is time to start school. By endorsing a positive attitude toward learning, Head Start offers children development opportunities in language and literacy and fundamental math and science concepts.
The program supports physical activity, serves healthy meals and provides medical, dental, hearing, vision and behavioral screening, per the Early Childhood Learning & Knowledge Center. Additionally, Head Start helps families looking for assistance and provides information to parents on employment and parenting.
Head Start (for children between 3-5) and Early Head Start (for children under 3 and pregnant women) are community-driven, often run by municipal non-profit agencies, school districts and local action organizations, and engage parents to participate in many program activities.
Children from families on public assistance program are welcome, as are homeless children, foster care children and kids with behavioral difficulties, physical and developmental delays, and other special needs.
Operated by the Administration for Children and Families under the Department of Health and Human Services, Head Start programs are available in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the U.S. territories. Thousands of children also participate in the American Indian and Alaska Native (AIAN) and Migrant and Seasonal (MSHS) Head Start programs, per the Head Start site.
ChildCare.gov recommends that as interested families check out the service’s locations and eligibility requirements, they should also ask about things like daily hours of operation and summer hours, staff turnover rates, curriculum, planned activities and parent resources.
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