Head Start

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While enrollment in Head Start increased slightly between the 2006-07 and the 2010-11 program years, this growth has not kept up with increases in child poverty, and the latest data show a decline in enrollment.

Importance

Head Start and Early Head Start are federally-funded programs designed to help children in low-income families prepare for school. In addition to education, Head Start provides health and social services, and encourages parental involvement in all aspects of the program. One rigorous national evaluation, the Head Start Impact Study, found gains for Head Start children in pre-reading, pre-writing, vocabulary and literacy skills. Children assigned to participate in Head Start also had fewer behavior problems, better overall physical health, less hyperactivity, and more access to dental care than did children with comparable backgrounds who did not participate. More positive effects were found for children who entered the program as three-year-olds than for those entering as four-year-olds.[1] Another study found that four-year-olds participating in Head Start had better receptive language and phonemic awareness skills than four-year-olds of similar backgrounds who were wait-listed for the program.[2] Other studies find that children who attended Head

Other studies find that children who attended Head Start are more likely to stay in school and have lower rates of grade retention in early elementary school.[3] Head Start participants are also more likely to be fully immunized,[4] and to have better access to health care.[5]

Head Start programs also have benefits for the parents of the children attending. In comparison with a group of families with similar backgrounds, parents of Head Start children are more likely to report good health and safety practices than are parents of children not attending.[6] First-year findings from the Head Start Impact Study also showed that parents of children attending Head Start were more likely to read to their children frequently, less likely to use physical punishment, and more likely to engage in educational activities with their children. However, Head Start parents were not significantly more likely to use better safety practices.[7]

The Head Start Impact Study will report findings for children over time. Studies to-date of the long-term effects of Head Start have had less rigorous research designs. Some of these studies find that initial increases in IQ and academic performance attributed to Head Start fade over time.[8] However, such findings may be inconclusive, because the children who attend Head Start are often the most disadvantaged, and their subsequent school experiences may differ, even from those with otherwise similar characteristics. For example, one study found that children who had attended Head Start were in lower quality (e.g., less safe, less academically rigorous) middle schools in eighth grade, which might explain why some of the positive gains fade over time.[9]

Children are eligible for Head Start if their families’ incomes are below the poverty line, or if they are eligible for public assistance. Children in foster care, or those who are experiencing homelessness, are also eligible, regardless of income. Additionally, at least ten percent of slots in Head Start programs are reserved for children with diagnosed disabilities, and without regard to income.[10] However, despite higher rates of eligibility, certain groups, such as children of immigrants, may be especially unlikely to enroll.[11]

Trends

97_fig1According to a survey of parents, between 1991 and 2005, the percentage of all children ages three to four participating in a Head Start program remained fairly constant, ranging between nine and eleven percent, and was at nine percent in 2005.[12]

Between the program years 2006-2007 and 2011-2012, the number of children ages birth through three enrolled in Early Head Start increased from 85,000 to 151,000. As a percentage of children of that age in poverty,[13] that represents an increase from three to four percent. In program year 2012-2013, enrollment fell to 150,000 children, or four percent of children in poverty. Between program years 2006-2007 and 2010-2011, Head Start enrollment increased from 975,000to 993,000, which represents a decline from 42 to 33 percent, as a proportion of the number of children ages three to five in poverty. While program enrollment fell to 964,000 in 2012-2013, coverage remained at 33 percent of children in poverty. (Figure 1)

Differences by Age

Most children in Early Head start are under the age of three, and most of the children in Head Start are three or four. In 2012-13, Early Head Start enrollment was about evenly divided among children younger than one, one-year-olds, and two-year-olds. Four percent were three years old. (Appendix 1) In Head Start, 55 percent of enrollees were four years old, and 40 percent of enrollees were three. Among three-year-olds, enrollment was 39 percent of those in poverty, and among four-year-olds, enrollment was 52 percent of those in poverty. (Appendix 2)

Differences by Enrollment Type

In 2012-13, seven percent of enrollees in Early Head Start qualified because they were homeless, and three percent because they were in foster care. Another two percent who qualified had parental incomes between 100 and 130 percent of the federal poverty level, and four percent had parental incomes greater than that (reasons vary). Many of the enrollees had been in Early Head Start before. In 2012-13, thirty percent were enrolled for their second year in the program, and 14 percent were enrolled for a third year or more. (Appendix 1) In Head Start, only three percent of enrollees were homeless, and 1.7 percent were foster children. Three percent had parents with incomes between 100 and 130 percent of the federal poverty level, and another five percent had parental incomes greater than that. Of all children in Head Start, 27 percent were in their second year of the program, and four percent were in their third year or more. (Appendix 2)

Differences by Race/Hispanic Origin [14]

97_fig2In 2012-13, about one in three children enrolled in the Head Start programs were Hispanic (35 percent of Early Head Start, and 38 percent of Head Start, which includes Migrant Head Start, a primarily Hispanic program). These compositions closely mirrored the Hispanic composition of children in poverty in these age groups. (Figure 2)

97_fig3As a percentage of same-aged children in poverty, there are wide differences in enrollment by race. For Early Head Start, enrollment among Asians and American Indians and Alaska Natives is six percent (as a percentage of children ages birth to three in poverty); for multi-racial children , four percent ; and three percent, each, among white, Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander, and black children. (Figure 3) Fourteen percent of enrollees have some other or unspecified race. (Appendix 1) For Head Start, enrollment among Asians is 52 percent (as a percentage of children ages three to five in poverty), 42 percent among American Indians and Alaska Natives, 38 percent among multi-racial children, 31 percent among black children, 24 percent among Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander children, and 22 percent among white children. (Figure 3) Thirteen percent of enrollees have some other or unspecified race. (Appendix 2)

State and Local Estimates

While percentages are not available, the number of children enrolled in Head Start programs in 2004 through 2013, by state, are available here.

International Estimates

None available.

National Goals

None.

Related Indicators

Definition

Head Start enrollment includes children in Migrant Head Start. Percentages by race, Hispanic origin, and primary language include pregnant mothers enrolled in Early Head Start and Migrant Head Start.

Data for children in poverty include all children, related to the householder, living in civilian housing. The poverty data do not include children in foster care.

Data Source

Data on number and percentage enrollment: The Administration for Children and Families, Early Childhood Learning and Knowledge Center. {various years}. Head Start Program Information Report (PIR). http://eclkc.ohs.acf.hhs.gov/hslc/mr/pir

Poverty data for percentages: US Census Bureau. (2013). Current Population Survey: CPS Table Creator. Available at: http://www.census.gov/cps/data/cpstablecreator.html

Raw Data Source

Endnotes


[1]U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2005). Head Start Impact Study: First year findings [Electronic Version]. Retrieved September 3, 2009 from http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/opre/hs/impact_study/reports/first_yr_execsum/first_yr_execsum.pdf.

[2]Abbott-Shim, M., Lambert, R., & McCarty, F. (2003). A comparison of school readiness outcomes for children randomly assigned to a Head Start program and the program's wait list. Journal of Education for Students Placed at Risk, 8(2), 191-214.

[3]Bulgakov, D. (2003). Head Start attendance as a predictor of elementary school outcomes. Unpublished Dissertation. University of Toledo.

[4]Barnett, W.S., & Hustedt, J.T. (2005). Head Start's lasting benefits [Electronic Version]. Infants and Young Children, 18, 16-24. Retrieved September 3, 2009 from http://depts.washington.edu/isei/iyc/barnett_hustedt18_1.pdf.

[5]U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2005), op. cit.

[6]Barnett, W.S., & Hustedt, J.T. (2005). Head Start's lasting benefits [Electronic Version]. Infants and Young Children, 18, 16-24. Retrieved September 3, 2009 from http://depts.washington.edu/isei/iyc/barnett_hustedt18_1.pdf.

[7]U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2005). Op. cit.

[8]Aughinbaugh, A. (2001). Does Head Start yield long-term benefits. Journal of Human Resources, 36(4), 641-665.

[9]Lee, V.E., & Loeb, S. (1995). Where do Head Start attendees end up? One reason why preschool effects fade out [Electronic Version]. Educational Evaluation & Policy Analysis, 17, 62-82. Retrieved September 3, 2009 from http://www.eric.ed.gov/ERICDocs/data/ericdocs2sql/content_storage_01/0000019b/80/15/6e/f7.pdf.

[10]Administration for Children and Families, Early Childhood Learning and Knowledge Center. (2011). Policy clarifications on eligibility, recruitment, selection, enrollment and attendance. Available at: http://eclkc.ohs.acf.hhs.gov/hslc/standards/policy%20clarifications%20and%20faqs/i_pc_actual.htm

[11]Takanishi, R. (2004). Leveling the playing field: Supporting immigrant children from birth to eight [Electronic Version]. The Future of Children, 14, 61-79. Retrieved September 3, 2009 from http://www.eric.ed.gov/ERICDocs/data/ericdocs2sql/content_storage_01/0000019b/80/3d/cf/b0.pdf.

[12]Child Trends' original analyses of National Household Education Survey data.

[13]There are children enrolled in Head Start Programs who are not in poverty (seven percent in 2012-13) or for whom poverty status is not determined (22 percent in 2012-13, including children in foster care, homeless children, and children in families receiving TANF or Supplemental Security Income). However, the number of children in poverty in a given year is a close approximation of eligible children.

[14]Hispanics may be any race.

 

Suggested Citation:

Child Trends Databank. (2014). Head start. Available at: http://www.childtrends.org/?indicators=head-start

 

Last updated: February 2014