Head Start is a comprehensive child development program which serves children from ages 3 to 5 and their families. It is a child-focused program and has the overall goal of increasing the school readiness of young children in low-income families.

The Head Start program is administered by the Head Start Bureau, the Administration on Children, Youth and Families (ACYF), Administration for Children and Families (ACF), Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). Grants are awarded by the ACF Regional Offices and the Head Start Bureau's American Indian and Migrant Program Branches directly to local public agencies, private organizations, Indian Tribes and school systems for the purpose of operating Head Start programs at the community level.

The Head Start program has a long tradition of delivering comprehensive and high quality services designed to foster healthy development in low-income children. Head Start grantee and delegate agencies provide a range of individualized services in the areas of education and early childhood development; medical, dental, and mental health; nutrition; and parent involvement. In addition, the entire range of Head Start services is responsive and appropriate to each child's and family's developmental, ethnic, cultural, and linguistic heritage and experience.

All Head Start programs must adhere to Program Performance Standards. The Head Start Program Performance Standards define the services that Head Start Programs are to provide to the children and families they serve. They constitute the expectations and requirements that Head Start grantees must meet. They are designed to ensure that the Head Start goals and objectives are implemented successfully, that the Head Start philosophy continues to thrive, and that all grantee and delegate agencies maintain the highest possible quality in the provision of Head Start services.

Services provided include:

  • Hearing screening (hearing, vision, growth and general health, immunizations)
  • Developmental screening (cognitive, communication, self-help/adaptive, motor and social-emotional skills) 
  • Coordination with medical, health, mental health and social service agencies (to meet the comprehensive needs of children) 
  • Developmentally appropriate preschool education (a half-day developmentally appropriate preschool program, generally in a mainstream setting)
  • Nutrition (at least one meal plus nutrition information as part of the curriculum)
  • Parent education (a minimum of two home visits, parent-teacher conferences, and opportunities to volunteer, attend parent education workshops, and otherwise learn about and help support their child's development)
  • Transportation (supervised transportation as a related service to attend preschool)