Head Start’s Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic

Research BriefCOVID-19Apr 25 2023

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began in early 2020, child care and early education (CCEE) providers have navigated various challenges and responded to families’ changing needs. CCEE providers taught virtually, and many parents facilitated their children’s virtual or at-home learning while also working from home. Head Start and Early Head Start programs strived to continue to provide much-needed services to enrolled families with as few disruptions as possible. In March 2020, Head Start and Early Head Start grantees had to quickly adjust to meet new public health requirements put in place by the Office of Head Start (OHS) as well as mandates from governors and state agencies in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation (OPRE) and the Office of Head Start (OHS) collaborated to conduct this research to describe Head Start’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, including supports they received, challenges they faced, and changes they made.

Key Findings and Highlights

1. Interviews with Regional Program Managers (RPMs) and Head Start Collaboration Office (HSCO) Directors highlighted several challenges grantees faced during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic. These challenges included staffing, family engagement and support, remote learning or general service delivery, and meeting COVID-19 pandemic health and safety guidelines.

2. In surveys, Head Start grantees reported these major challenges:

  • 73% reported challenges with providing remote support to families because families did not have reliable technologies or internet services.
  • 63% reported challenges with finding and hiring new staff who are qualified to teach and care for children.
  • 46% reported challenges associated with creating new policies to meet local, state, and federal health guidelines.

3. Head Start directors, teachers, and family service workers all contributed to ensuring that the needs of families were met during the COVID-19 pandemic by organizing deliveries of food and other necessities to families—even on weekends or when their centers were closed—soliciting technology and Wi-Fi hotspot donations from community members to supply to families, and connecting families with additional resources outside of Head Start.

This brief is part of the Child Care and Early Education Policy and Research Analysis (CCEEPRA) project. CCEEPRA supports policy and program planning and decision-making with rigorous, research-based information.