Head Start Overview

What Head Start Does

Head Start is a federal program that promotes the school readiness of children ages birth to 5 from low-income families by enhancing their cognitive, social, and emotional development.

Head Start programs provide a learning environment that supports children’s growth in:

  • language & literacy
  • cognition & general knowledge
  • physical development & health
  • social & emotional development, and
  • approaches to learning.

Head Start programs provide comprehensive services to enrolled children and their families, which include health, nutrition, social, and other services determined to be necessary by family needs assessments, in addition to education and cognitive development services. Head Start services are designed to be responsive to each child and family’s ethnic, cultural, and linguistic heritage.

Head Start emphasizes the role of parents as their child’s first and most important teacher. Head Start programs build relationships with families that support:

  • family well-being and positive parent-child relationships
  • families as learners and lifelong educators
  • family engagement in transitions
  • family connections to peers and community, and
  • families as advocates and leaders.

Head Start Services

Head Start serves preschool-age children and their families. Many Head Start programs also provide Early Head Start, which serves infants, toddlers, pregnant women and their families who have incomes below the federal poverty level.

Head Start programs offer a variety of service models, depending on the needs of the local community. Programs may be based in:

  • Centers or schools that children attend for part-day or full-day services
  • Family child care homes, and/or
  • Children’s own homes, where a staff person visits once a week to provide services to the child and family. Children and families who receive home-based services gather periodically with other enrolled families for a group learning experience facilitated by Head Start staff.

Over a million children are served by Head Start programs every year, including children in every U.S. state and territory and in American Indian and Alaskan Native communities. Since 1965, nearly 30 million low-income children and their families have received these comprehensive services to increase their school readiness.


The Office of Head Start (OHS), within the Administration of Children and Families of the Department of Health and Human Services, awards grants to public and private agencies on a competitive basis to provide these comprehensive services to specific communities. Head Start grantees provide the services as described in the Head Start Performance Standards and in accordance with the Head Start Act of 2007. The Office of Head Start is responsible for oversight of these grantees, to ensure the performance standards are met and the best quality of care is provided to the enrolled children. In addition, some cities, states and federal programs offer funding to expand Head Start and Early Head Start to additional children within their jurisdiction.

Leading the Way for Children, Families, and Communities

Go to the OHS web site to view this 15 minute video.


In her role as Director of the Office of Head Start, Dr. Blanca Enriquez leads ACF’s critical mission of enriching the quality of early childhood development for the nation’s most vulnerable children.

Dr. Enriquez brings with her an energy and passion for early learning that started when she was teaching English as a second language to kindergartners and first graders in the El Paso, Texas, school system. She has been involved in early care and education since the early 1970s in various positions throughout her home state. She has been an administrator and supervisor of Head Start programs, elementary schools and bilingual education programs since 1973. Most recently she has served as the executive director of the Texas Education Service Center Region 19 Head Start program, based in El Paso, with an annual budget of $32 million. During that time, the program has grown from 1,200 preschoolers at 10 sites to more than 4,000 children at 30 sites and has won many local, state and national awards.

Dr. Enriquez holds a master’s of education degree from the University of Texas at El Paso and a doctorate of philosophy in education administration from New Mexico State University. She has served as a member of the Texas State Secretary’s Advisory Committee on Early Childhood Education and was appointed by former President George W. Bush as an advisory board member for the National Institute for Literacy. She is a member of the National Head Start Association, the National Association for the Education of Children, the Texas and National Associations for Bilingual Education and the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.