The Head Start program provides a tradition of excellence. The program offers early childhood education, nutritious meals and snacks, and medical and dental services. It also provides social services for families, activities for parents, assistance for children with special needs, and comprehensive child and family development services.
"In five and one-half years on the Juvenile Court bench in hundreds of delinquency cases, I remember only two children who went through a quality preschool program. We will never feel the full protective effect of quality preschools until we provide them for all at-risk children."
Former Presiding Judge of the Maricopa County Juvenile Court
The Head Start Program is based on the premise that all children share certain needs and that children of low-income families, in particular, can benefit from a comprehensive developmental program to meet those needs. The Head Start approach makes the following assumptions:
- A child can benefit from a comprehensive, interdisciplinary program to foster development.
- Because the family is the principal influence on the child's development, the child's family, as well as the community must be involved in the program.
Local communities are allowed latitude to develop creative program designs so long as the basic goals, objectives and standards of the comprehensive program are maintained.
The overall goal of the Head Start Program is to bring about a greater degree of social competence in children of low-income families. Social competence means the child's everyday effectiveness in dealing with both the present environment and later responsibilities in school and in life. Social competence takes into account the interrelatedness of cognitive and intellectual development, physical and mental health, nutritional needs as well as other factors. To achieve social competence, Head Start objectives and performance standards provide for:
- Improvement of the child's health and physical abilities, including appropriate steps to correct present physical and mental problems and to enhance every child's access to an adequate diet.
- Improvement of the family's attitude toward future health care and physical abilities.
- Encouragement of self-confidence, spontaneity, curiosity and self-discipline that will assist the development of the child's social and emotional health.
- Enhancement of the child's mental processes and skills, with particular attention to conceptual and communication skills.
- Establishment of patterns and expectations of the success for the child that will crate a climate of confidence for present and future learning efforts and overall development.
- Enhance the ability of the child and family to relate to one another and to others.
- Development of a sense of dignity and self-worth within the child and his family.
Source: Head Start Performance Standards