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How to Start a Head Start Program

22 July 2013

This article is for child care providers who would like to start their own Head Start program. If you’re a parent looking to enroll in a Head Start Program click here.

The Head Start programs are child care, education and social services for low-income children and their families. The programs have been around for decades and now help one million children each year. They strive to enforce good physical and developmental health, as well as providing connections to affordable or free mental and dental assistance. They educate parents on strong parenting skills in order to encourage a solid parent-child relationship. A variety of organizations across the country, from in-home child care to preschool programs offer Head Start services to low-income families. Here’s how to start a Head Start program in your own care center and how to know if Head Start is a good fit for your provider:

Know the qualifications:
Families may apply to participate in your Head Start program if they meet the following guidelines:
• The child must be under 5 years old.
• The family must be residents of the state your program operates in.
• The families must meet financial guidelines. These are generally determined by the poverty line.

Financial guidelines:
Most Head Start programs use the country’s poverty line to determine eligibility. For most states, with the exception of Alaska and Hawaii, this means:
• A family of 1 must make less than $11,490 per year.
• A family of 2 must make less than $15,510 per year.
• A family of 3 must make less than $19,530 per year.
• A family of 4 must make less than $23,550 per year.
• A family of 5 must make less than $27,570 per year.
• A family of 6 must make less than $31,590 per year.
• A family of 7 must make less than $35,610 per year.
• A family of 8 must make less than $39,630 per year.

Eligible Head Start providers:
The following are some of the types of organizations that are eligible for providing Head Start programs:
• School districts
• City governments
• Public higher education institutes
• Native American tribal government programs
• Small businesses
• Private higher education institutes
• Public housing authorities
• Both for and not-for-profit organizations

Meet the standards:
Head Start requires hosting organizations to meet specific standards in order to qualify for grants or participate in the program at all. Many of these revolve around neutral political or family views, efficiency, effectiveness and public access to general information. Visit the Head Start Program Performance Standards and Other Regulations for more information.

Apply for grants:
Many Head Start programs use grants and other award-based funding opportunities to launch and maintain their own Head Start programs. Many of these government-based grants are awarded by state or even country. Visit the Administration for Children and Families to view available grants.

Make sure there aren’t too many others in your area:
Use the Directory of Current Grantees to see if there’s a need for a Head Start program in your area.

Starting and maintaining a Head Start program within your own organization may seem overwhelming, but you don’t have to do it alone. The Office of Head Start offers help through the Training and Technical Assistance program. Visit the National Technical Assistance website for more guidance and information.

For more information on the history and goals of Head Start, visit our “What is Head Start?” resource!

-“2013 Poverty Guidelines” Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation: http://aspe.hhs.gov/poverty/13poverty.cfm
-Grant Opportunities: The Administration for Children and Families: http://www.acf.hhs.gov/grants/open/foa/office/ohs
-Head Start: An office of the Administration for Children and Families Early Childhood Learning and Knowledge Center “Is Head Start a Good Fit for My Agency?” http://eclkc.ohs.acf.hhs.gov/hslc/hs/grants/grant-toolkit/understanding.html
-Directory of Current Grantees: http://eclkc.ohs.acf.hhs.gov/hslc/HeadStartOffices
-“Technical Assistance” Office of Head Start: https://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/ohs/assistance
-“Head Start Program Performance Standards and Other Regulations” Head Start: http://eclkc.ohs.acf.hhs.gov/hslc/standards/Head%20Start%20Requirements

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