What Can Head Start Do to Interrupt Associations between Poverty and Child and Family Outcomes? A Study of Head Start’s Family Support Services and Practices

Early ChildhoodDec 10 2020

Head Start’s family support services (FSS) include the program’s intentional efforts to provide information about and connect families to a range of supports. These supports include employment and job training, adult education, nutritional screenings and food assistance, housing and utility assistance, health screening and insurance, legal services, and counseling and crisis assistance. This study aims to advance our understanding of the role that Head Start’s FSS and related practices can play in supporting family stability, improving parent well-being, and improving child school readiness.

Using the Family and Child Experiences Survey 2014 (FACES 2014) dataset, our team will:

  1. Examine the extent to which the quantity, range, and facilitation of Head Start’s FSS are associated with reduced family financial strain and improved parent well-being and child school readiness.
  2. Identify relationship, empowerment, and collaboration (REC) practices that strengthen positive associations between FSS and child and family outcomes.
  3. Explore whether these patterns vary for culturally and linguistically diverse families.

Should the study team identify positive associations between Head Start’s FSS and child and family outcomes, our results will further amplify Head Start’s standing as a program that provides a meaningful and effective public service in support of young, low-income children and their families. We predict that the findings will inform policies and other work for the Head Start National Center on Parent, Family, and Community Engagement (NCFPCE) and the Head Start National Center on Health, Behavioral Health, and Safety (NCHBHS). In addition, identifying whether certain REC practices are associated with improved child and family outcomes will guide ongoing program improvement efforts around hiring and training effective family service workers. Finally, any observed differences among culturally and linguistically diverse families will help Head Start understand how to better target services and tailor practices for specific subpopulations.


Principal Investigator: Doré R. LaForett, PhD
Co-Investigator: Dana Thomson, MSEd, PhD
Senior Research Analyst: Alex DeMand, MS, MA
Senior Research Analyst: Jessica Warren, MS


Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation in the US Department of Health and Human Services

Project Period

9/30/2020 – 3/31/2022