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Head Start is a Unique Intervention Program

By Dr. Tim Nolan January, 2014

As we examine Head Start’s current and future contributions to the effort to assure that all children arrive at the doors of their elementary school ready to learn, it is important to note that the successes that Head Start has achieved in serving pregnant mothers and children from birth through age five come as a result of being designed from the beginning as an intervention program.

The group pulled together to create Head Start very early in 1965 were psychologists and physicians who developed a program which was expected to find the most needy young children and families in America and to bring sufficient specialized resources to bear that the child and her family could be on a trajectory toward success as they arrived at their local elementary school. Head Start has always been an intervention program with expectations far beyond cognitive gains. As a unique intervention program…

  • We deal with the whole child…cognitive, physical health, dental health, mental health, nutrition, interpersonal skills development. The Minnesota Head Start Association states that “Young children will not be prepared to master pre-academic or socio-emotional skills if their teeth hurt, if they are hungry, or if they are regularly absent because of unstable housing. Policies aiming at-risk children’s school readiness must ensure the whole families’ basic needs are met.”  This is why intervention is so important!
  • We recruit the most needy of the economically eligible children…children and families are rated and ranked by need and only the most needy make it into Head Start…we SEEK to enroll the children others too often reject.
  • We enroll the family, not just their child, identifying the needs and goals of the family and working regularly with them throughout the year in order to help them succeed in achieving their goals…and to deepen this capability forever.
  • We commit significant time and resources to working with the family as the foundation of their child’s success. We orient families at the beginning of the school year, emphasizing the roles they must play in order to succeed. We visit their homes multiple times each year. We bring them into the center to discuss, learn, observe and plan on behalf of their child.
  • Staff meet regularly, often weekly, to review each child and family in order to assure actions that prevent them from drifting away from Head Start.
  • We hire accomplished professionals to assure that we can effectively make in-depth interventions that will make profound change in families and their children. We are constantly providing professional development.
  • We individualize instruction in concert with parent input…assuring the parent a key part of this process. We honor the reality that the parent is their child’s primary teacher and thus have high expectations for parents.
  • We work with the specialized professionals across our community (pediatricians, dentists, social workers, etc.) making referrals and following up to assure success for the enrolled family.

Children at major risk for failure in school and life require deep strategic intervention. Depth services tailored to the needs of the specific child and her family, implemented by passionate, competent professionals who will never give up are the basis to achieving extraordinary change. We must retain and deepen this capability.