Head Start is primarily a federally-funded program that provides education, health and social services to families with children aged 3, 4 and 5. Head Start programs help children develop academic and social skills that prepare them for school and life. While enrolled in a high quality Head Start preschool program, children receive nutrition, health and supports that help them grow mentally, physically and socially. Families are also offered support to help them obtain services for a variety of needs such as employment or housing. Families who are 100% of the federal poverty level are eligible to apply and the preschool program is free. At least 10% of a Head Start program's enrollment must serve children with disabilities.
There is a Head Start program in every county in Pennsylvania. Local agencies receive funding from the federal government to operate as a Head Start grantee and they follow a comprehensive set of Performance Standards that assure high quality. Many Head Start programs offer center-based services where children attend a preschool. In rural areas, Head Start may operate as a home-based program where trained home visitors bring the Head Start program to families in their homes.
Pennsylvania provides additional state funding to Head Start grantees to expand their services so that more children and families are able to access Head Start services. The Head Start Supplemental Assistance (HSSAP) program has awarded existing Head Start grantees with grants to increase the number of children they serve or to expand the length of the Head Start day or year for children.
HSSAP has been in existence since 2004 and is administered by the Pennsylvania Departments of Education and Human Services Office of Child Development and Early Learning, in partnership with the Pennsylvania Key and Berks County Intermediate Unit.
Early Head Start serves pregnant women and families with children from birth to age 3. It operates like preschool Head Start, following a set of federal Performance Standards that assure every child receives high quality services that help them grow physically, academically and socially and families obtain needed services to help them become self sufficient. The program may be offered as center-based or home-based services and is free.
Pennsylvania also provides Pennsylvania Early Head Start to a limited number of children and families. Funded through federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act dollars, the Office of Child Development and Early Learning was named as an Early Head Start to expand services to infants and toddlers across the state. Pennsylvania Early Head Start is provider in 8 locations across the Commonwealth.
Families should apply for Head Start or Early Head Start services through their local Head Start grantee. You can find the program in your community through the Head Start Provider Locator.
Head Start information for families