economic stimulus funds are enabling Early Head Start programs across the
nation to reach 55,000 additional low-income infants, toddlers, and pregnant
women and increase their payrolls to accommodate expansion, including 20
programs in Pennsylvania, three of which serve Allegheny County families.
federal grants provide for the most significant expansion to date of Early Head
Start, which was created in 1995 as an initiative to promote healthy prenatal
outcomes for pregnant women, the development of very young children, and
healthy family functioning in American neighborhoods challenged by poverty.
always had our eyes set on expansion," said Vivian Herman, director of Early
Head Start at the University of Pittsburgh Office of Child Development (OCD),
which administers University of Pittsburgh Early Head Start, known locally as
Family Foundations. “Pretty much from the time we started in 1996 it was clear
that it would not be difficult to find more children who we could serve.”
Foundations added 140 children to the program with an Early Head Start
expansion grant received earlier this year, raising its total enrollment to 310
children across six Allegheny County community sites.
Early Head Start programs in the county that were awarded expansion grants include
those operated by Pittsburgh Public Schools and the Allegheny Intermediate
Unit. The additional money has allowed each to enroll another 72 children in
Focus on Early Years
Head Start was created at a time when scientific evidence was emerging that
portrayed the infant and toddler years as critical periods in the maturation of
the brain during which experience and proper stimulation could play key roles
in enhancing development.
recent expansion, more than 86,000 low-income children ages birth to 3 years
and about 11,000 pregnant women were enrolled nationwide in the federal
recent data on the children and families enrolled in Early Head Start come from
the program’s 2005–2006 Program Information Reports, which sites across the
country are required to submit each year. Analysis of the data provides a
glimpse of those served.
Head Start, for example, enrolls a diverse range of low-income children, families,
and pregnant women. Nationwide, the racial and ethnic profile included 42
percent white, 30 percent Hispanic, and 25 percent African American. About 92
percent of the pregnant women enrolled received prenatal and postnatal care.
Among children who did not have health insurance when they enrolled in Early
Head Start, 54 percent obtained insurance during their first year in the
program. And 93 percent of children in the program received all immunizations
appropriate for their age.
the best evidence of the impact Early Head Start has on children, families, and
pregnant women was reported in a rigorous, large-scale, random assignment
evaluation of 17 program sites that was commissioned by the U.S. Department of
Health and Human Services.
some of the gains reported tended to be modest overall, the impact of Early
Head Start was found to be greater among certain subgroups, including African
American families and families who enrolled during pregnancy. And Early Head
Start children made gains in several areas that are important predicators of
later school achievement and family functioning.
Head Start, for example, largely sustained statistically significant, positive
impacts on cognitive development among 3-year-old children. On average, they
scored higher than children who did not participate in the program on the
Bayley Scales of Infant Development Mental Development Index, an assessment of
cognitive development. Fewer Early Head Start children scored in the at-risk
range of developmental functioning. Early Head Start children scored higher on
assessments of language development than peers in the control group. And Early
Head Start children improved several aspects of social-emotional development at
age 3, including lower ratings for aggressive behavior.
evaluation also reported that Early Head Start contributed to improving a range
of parenting outcomes. Early Head Start parents, for example, were found to be
more emotionally supportive with their children than parents who did not
participate in the program. They were more likely to report reading to their
children every day and were less likely to engage in negative parenting
behaviors. They also tended to use a greater range of discipline skills,
including fewer punitive strategies.
Impact of Expansion
American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, known as the economic stimulus
bill, provided $1.1 billion for expanding Early Head Start nationwide,
increasing by more than 50 percent the number of children and families
receiving the benefits the program.
Foundations was awarded a two-year expansion grant that when annualized totals
about $1.5 million a year. It received $1,069,331 in February as a partial-year
expansion grant. The expansion grant supplements the program’s $2.4 million in
annual federal funding. In addition, the Heinz Endowments provides the 25
percent matching funds Early Head Start requires.
expansion funds have allowed Family Foundations to offer the benefits of its
services to children and families in two additional communities. A site serving
Pittsburgh’s North Side and surrounding neighborhoods, and a Tri-Boro site
serving Braddock and nearby communities were added to the Family Foundations
network, which includes sites in the city’s Hill District and East End
neighborhoods, and the McKees Rocks and Clairton areas.
sites were established to address areas of need identified in the program’s annual
community assessment update performed by the University of Pittsburgh Graduate
School of Public Health. Family Foundations recruited 40 families in each of
the new sites and added 10-20 new families to the enrollments of the other
four. In doing so, the program increased its enrollment of low-income children
and families by more than 80 percent.
accommodate expansion, 19 new employees were hired to supplement the Family
Foundations staff of 40, which includes home visitors, child development specialists,
and recruiters, who play a key role in identifying families in need and keeping
Family Foundations fully enrolled, which is an Early Head Start requirement.
The program also offers the services specialists from other agencies, such as
mental health specialists, nurses, and nutritionists.
Foundations is predominantly home-based in its delivery of services and it takes
an infant mental health approach, which focuses on building strong
relationships between mother and child to help promote optimal social, intellectual,
emotional, and physical development in children, healthy family environments,
and resiliency. Services include in-home child development activities, early
literacy, parenting information, links to quality childcare, and infant/toddler
socialization. Family Foundations also gives families a voice in the program. A
parent council, for example, provides them with input on matters such as
curriculum and hiring.
Head Start expansion grants were competitively awarded based on proposals and
past performance. Herman said that a history of strict compliance with federal
regulations, its record of success, and its approach emphasizing child-parent
relationships are among the program’s strengths. “We believe it’s about the
parent-child relation- ship, about the attachment between the mother and baby,”
she said. “We believe when children are socially and emotionally healthy they
learn better, their cognitive development is better, their physical development
is better, and their motor skills are better. And we’ve found that parents are
hungry for relationships with people who support them in their parenting.”
in this article related to national Early Head Start demographics and outcomes
data were summarized from the following studies:
J.M., Kisker, E., Ross, C.M., Schochet, P.Z., Brooks- Gunn, J.B., Paulsell, D.,
Boller, K., Constantine, J., Vogel, C., Fuligni, A.S., & Brady-Smith, C.
(2002, June). Making a Difference in the Lives of Infants and Toddlers and
Their Families: The Impacts of Early Head Start, Executive Summary. Washington,
DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children
E., & Ewen, D. (2007, December). Supporting families, nurturing young
children: Early Head Start programs in 2006. CLASP Policy Brief (Head Start
Series), 9. Washington, DC: Center for Law and Social Policy.