With the “baby boom” came a need for children and family services, especially of those families living at or below the poverty line. Of children living in rural poverty, 50% failed to complete the 8th grade (Humphrey, 1964). Unfortunately, most of this poverty was completely hidden to the middle and upper classes until the early 60s, when awareness began to emerge (Vinovskis, 2005).
One in six of the nation’s children lived in poverty (Humphrey, 1964).
In John F. Kennedy’s 1960 presidential campaign, he promised social reform in the areas of education and medical insurance (Jansson, 2015). After Kennedy’s assassination in November of 1963, his vice president Lyndon B. Johnson announced his plans to create a “great society” in his state of the union address given on January 8, 1964 (Head Start: An Office of the Administration for Children and Families Early Childhood Learning and Knowledge, 2015). Johnson believed that providing education was key to fighting poverty (Head Start: An Office of the Administration for Children and Families Early Childhood Learning and Knowledge, 2015).
The Economic Opportunities Act of 1964 was passed, which created the Office of Economic Opportunities in the Executive Office, which was directed by Sargent Shriver (Economic Opportunities Act of 1964). This allowed President Johnson to mobilize the United States’ resources in order to launch his war on poverty, which included poverty relief programs such as Job Corps, Vista, Urban/Rural Community, Community Action Agencies, and Project Head Start (California Health and Human Services Agency, 2015).
California Health and Human Services Agencies (2015). History. Retrieved from http://www.csd.ca.gov/AboutUs/History.aspx
Humphrey, H. H. (1964). War on poverty. Toronto, New York, McGraw-Hill (1964).
Head Start: An Office of the Administration for Children and Families Early Childhood Learning and Knowledge (2015). Head Start Timeline. Retrieved from https://www.acf.hhs.gov/ohs/about/history-of-head-start
On April 2, 2016, I interviewed my aunt, XXXXX, about the benefits my cousin, XXXXX, received through Head Start while he attended preschool from 2009 through 2012 (personal communication). In 2009, XXXXX was a 37 year old, white mother of four who worked from home as an actuarial technician for Medical Protective, where she works currently. She received her Bachelor’s degree from Miami University in 1995. Her children, at the time ages 9, 7, 5, and 3 (now ages 16, 14, 11, and 9) lived with her and their father, XX, in West Chester, Ohio, where they were involved in sports, music, and theatre in the community, and attended the local Methodist church. XXX and her family have always been particularly close with XXX’s parents (my grandparents) in Beavercreek, Ohio, who they visit on a regular basis. XX has his Master’s degree in education and works as a high school teacher, both currently and in 2009. He now has partial custody of the children after he and XXX separated in 2014. XXXXs boyfriend currently lives in the household, along with his daughter, age 18, who spends time there while not with her mom. Although the family has always enjoyed an upper middle class lifestyle, money has been more stressful since XXXX and XX separated.
Their son XXX was born on September 19, 2006 (N. C. XXXX, personal communication, April 2, 2016). Although in perfect physical health, he has autism spectrum disorder, and cannot speak verbally. Although the transition from Help Me Grow to Head Start was seamless, XXX commented that his first year of preschool was difficult because he did not have an official diagnosis yet. She said that doctors do not typically want to diagnose children with autism until they are close to 4 years old, when some children overcome prior developmental challenges. Her son was put into a class that was made up of half developmentally typical children, and half children with special needs. XXX felt that his teacher was underqualified to work with him because his developmental disabilities were significantly more severe than those of his peers.
Before XX started his second year of preschool, he was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder through the Autism Center of Butler County (N. C. XXX, personal communication, April 2, 2016). Although learning that her child had autism was difficult, the official diagnoses made more services available to XX and the family.
In 2007, Head Start was reauthorized by the Improving Head Start for School Readiness Act, Public Law No.: 110-134 (2007). The act also changed the administration and funding of Head Start through the Secretary of Health and Human Services from an indefinite period to a 5 year grant based cycle (Administration for Children & Families, 2015; School Readiness Act of 2007). Section 640 defined the allotted amounts of funds for state Head Start programs, training and technical assistance, research, and evaluations. Further, the act enhanced Head Start programs to include better monitoring, training supported at the state and national levels, higher qualifications of teachers, State Advisory Councils on Early Care and Education, and standardization of early education goals. Specifically, section 652 revises training and educational requirements for Head Start teachers of children with disabilities in accordance with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Section 634 requires that Head Start workers reach out to parents in order to provide more support and education about their kids’ needs for healthy development. The full act can be found at https://www.congress.gov/110/plaws/publ134/PLAW-110publ134.pdf
The importance of early childhood education is stressed in the Early Childhood Care and Services chapter of Social Work Speaks (National Association of Social Workers, 2015). The NASW defines early childhood as birth to eight years of age. In this time, quality childcare that addresses the child’s educational, social, emotional, and health related needs leads to enhanced development of cognitive, language, and social skills. It stresses the importance of supporting not only the child, but the parents as well, because they ultimately have the greatest impact on the child’s potential outcomes. Because early childhood is a critical period for the development of crucial life skills, families should have access to equally qualified child care centers and educational facilities. The NASW discusses early child care as a multi-disciplinary approach, in which social workers play an integral role due to their ability consider the strengths of the family, and create the best plan for the child. Social workers also have training in the effects of environmental stressors on young children, such as neglect, isolation, abuse, and exposure to violence (National Association of Social Workers, 2015).
In Argentina, the National Education Law of 2006 was passed to increase access to quality education specifically to children living in rural areas (World Bank, 2015). The law changed compulsory schooling from 10 to 12 years, recognized cultural differences in rural education, and focused on increasing preschool education in low income areas. The National Rural Education Program, which created new schools, donated text books, and funded teacher training, was launched as a result of the policy. Between 2004 and 2013, preschool education in rural areas increased by 32.4%, and school dropout rates dropped for all age groups (World Bank, 2015). The law also established Primeros Años: Programa Nacional de Desarrollo Infantil, or “first years: national program of childhood development” in English, a program that uses community engagement to support families with the growth and development of their children aged 0 to 4 years (Consejo Nacional de Coordinación de Políticas Sociales Presidencia de la Nación, n.d.). The program holds that all children should have equal opportunities to achieve their potential. It also states that programs in each of the provinces should be specific to the culture, history, and resources of that area in order to meet the specific needs of the people who live there. Similar to Head Start, it puts the family in the center of the child’s life, and therefore strives to educate and involve the child’s parents as much as possible.
Consejo Nacional de Coordinación de Políticas Sociales Presidencia de la Nación. (n.d.). Qué es Primeros Años. Retrieved from http://www.primerosanios.gob.ar/institucional/quees.html
Improving Head Start for School Readiness Act of 2007, 42 U. S. C. §§ 635-657 (2007). Available from https://www.congress.gov/110/plaws/publ134/PLAW-110publ134.pdf
National Association of Social Workers. (2015). Early Childhood Care and Services. In J. Gutin, & S. Lowman (Eds.), Social Work Speaks: NASW Policy Statements (10th ed.). (pp. 82-84). Washington, D. C.: NASW Press.
The World Bank (2015). Argentina Improves its Rural Education System. Retrieved from http://www.worldbank.org/en/results/2015/04/06/argentina-improves-its-rural-education-system.
Head Start’s primary goal is to increase access to quality early education and to improve school readiness to vulnerable children, including those who come from low-income families, who have a disability, and who make up racial and ethnic minorities (Institute for Child, Youth and Family Policy, Heller School for Social Policy Management, Brandeis University, 2016). It is a nationally funded program operated through the Administration on Children, Youth, and Families in the Department of Health and Human Services (National Head Start Association, 2016). Head Start programs are administered by local community and school based organizations, and receive grants provided by the Regional Offices of the Department of Health and Human Services (National Head Start Association, 2016).
Head Start includes four programs: Head Start, Early Head Start, American Indian and Alaska Native Head Start and Early Head Start, and Migrant and Seasonal Head Start. Head Start serves preschool aged children (usually ages 3-5) who qualify based on their families’ income or due to disabilities. To qualify, family income must be at or below the poverty line. Children who are homeless, in foster care, or who have disabilities also qualify for Head Start (Improving Head Start for School Readiness Act of 2007). Early Head Start works with pregnant mothers, infants, and toddlers to provide support in the crucial first three years of life, and follows the same qualification requirements as Head Start. American Indian and Alaska Native Head Start and Early Head Start focus on providing culturally competent care to address the specific needs of Native American children from birth through age five. Qualifications are also dependent on family income, assuming the family lives on a reservation. Finally, Migrant and Seasonal Head Start provide a stable education to children in families that move around frequently, many of whom would otherwise not get consistent early education. To qualify, the family’s income has to come primarily from agricultural work, and must be at or below the poverty level (Improving Head Start for School Readiness Act of 2007; Institute for Child, Youth and Family Policy, Heller School of Social Policy Management, Brandeis University, 2016).
Research suggests that Head Start results in immediate advances in a child’s cognitive abilities, self-esteem, social skills, nutrition, and health overall (Washington & Bailey, 1995). Further, Head Start increases parental involvement in their child’s education, which has been associated with more long term benefits for the child (Washington & Bailey, 1995). Long term effectiveness is still a debated topic, as research has failed to come to a conclusion on whether or not Head Start leads to improved cognitive, social, and emotional skills throughout elementary school (Institute for Child, Youth, and Family Policy, Heller School for Social Policy Management, Brandeis University, 2016). Unfortunately, insufficient funding prevents Head Start from reaching close to 50% of children in low income families. Accessibility to Head Start varies by race and ethnic background, with white children having more access than children of color (Institute for Child, Youth, and Family Policy, Heller School for Social Policy Management, Brandeis University, 2016). However, Head Start has set the model for early childhood programs, and has facilitated research in developmental child psychology (Washington & Bailey, 1995).
Since 1965, Head Start has served 32 million children and their families (National Head Start Association, 2016). Given Head Start’s focus, these children are from families at or below the poverty line, are in foster care, or are children with disabilities. Head Start currently serves over one million children and their families annually in urban, suburban, and rural locations in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and other U.S. territories (National Head Start Association, 2016).
Improving Head Start for School Readiness Act of 2007, 42 U. S. C. §§ 635-657 (2007).
Institute for Child, Youth and Family Policy, Heller School for Social Policy Management, Brandeis University (2016). “Head Start.” Diversity Data Kids: Data for a Diverse and Equitable Future, 2016. Retrieved from: http://www.diversitydatakids.org/data/policy/1/head-start
National Head Start Association. (2016). About Us: Mission, Vision, History. Retrieved from https://www.nhsa.org/about-us/mission-vision-history
National Head Start Association. (2016). Why Head Start: The Head Start Model. Retrieved from https://www.nhsa.org/why-head-start/head-start-model
Washington, V., & Bailey, U. J. O. (1995). Project Head Start: Models and Strategies for the Twenty- First Century. New York, NY: Garland Publishing, Inc.