All babies need good health, strong families, and positive early learning experiences to foster their healthy intellectual, social, and emotional development. The Early Head Start (EHS) program was created in 1994 and continues to provide comprehensive services for children under age 3 and pregnant women today.
In addition to early learning opportunities, EHS’s comprehensive early childhood development programs provide children and families with access to a range of services such as health screenings, referrals and follow-up support, parenting resources, and social services. Research shows that EHS positively impacts children’s cognitive, language, and social-emotional development; family self-sufficiency; and parental support of child development.
- Provide safe and developmentally enriching care which promotes the physical, cognitive, social and emotional development of infants and toddlers, preparing them for future growth and development;
- Support families in their role as primary caregivers and teachers of their children, and in meeting personal goals and achieving self-sufficiency across a wide variety of domains;
- Mobilize communities to provide the resources and environment necessary to ensure a comprehensive, integrated array of services and support for families;
- Ensure the provision of high quality, responsive services to families through the development of trained and caring staff.
The guiding principles of EHS nurture healthy attachments between parent and child (as well as child and caregiver), emphasize a strengths-based, relationship-centered approach to services, and encompass the full range of a family’s needs from pregnancy through a child’s third birthday.
- Emphasis on high quality which recognizes the critical opportunity to positively impact children and families in the early years and beyond
- Prevention and promotion activities that support healthy development as well as recognize and address atypical development at the earliest stage possible
- Positive relationships and continuity which honor the critical importance of early attachments on healthy development in early childhood. The parents are viewed as a child’s first, and most important, relationship.
- Parent involvement activities that offer mothers and fathers a meaningful and strategic role in the program’s vision, services, and governance.
- Inclusion strategies that respect the unique developmental trajectories of young children in the context of a typical setting, including children with special needs.
- Cultural competence which acknowledges the profound role that culture plays in early development. Programs also recognize the influence of cultural values and beliefs on both staff and families’ approaches to child development, working within the context of home languages for all children and families.
- Comprehensiveness, flexibility and responsiveness of services which allow children and families to move across various program options over time, as their life situation demands.
- Transition planning respects families’ need for thought and attention paid to movements across program options and into (as well as out of) Early Head Start programs.
- Collaboration is, simply put, central to an Early Head Start program’s ability to meet the comprehensive needs of families. Strong partnerships allow programs to expand their services to families with infants and toddlers beyond the door of the program and into the larger community.
Child Development: Programs must support the physical, social, emotional, cognitive, and language development of each child. Parenting education and the support of a positive parent-child relationship are critical to this cornerstone.
Family Development: Programs must seek to empower families by developing goals for themselves and their children. Staff and parents develop individualized family development plans that focus on the child’s developmental needs and the family’s social and economic needs. Families that are involved in other programs requiring a family service plan will receive a single coordinated plan so that they experience a seamless system of services.
Community Building: Programs are expected to conduct an assessment of community resources so that they may build a comprehensive network of services and supports for pregnant women and families with young children. The goal of these collaborative relationships is to increase family access to community supports, make the most efficient use of limited resources, and effect system-wide changes to improve the service delivery system for all families in the community.
Staff Development: The success of the Early Head Start program rests largely on the quality of the staff. Staff members must have the capacity to develop caring, supportive relationships with both children and families. On-going training, supervision, and mentoring will encompass an inter-disciplinary approach and emphasize relationship-building. Staff development will be grounded in established “best practices” in the areas of child development, family development, and community building.