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Head Start Program - Essay Example

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Abstract This short paper aims at introducing Head Start to those who are unfamiliar with it. It points out that disadvantaged children are its target group, identifies the Office of Head Start under the Department of Health and Human Services (Administration for Children and Family), regional offices and government and non-government agencies and grantees and its implementation mechanism…
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Head Start Program
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This short paper aims at introducing Head Start to those who are unfamiliar with it. It points out that disadvantaged children are its target group, identifies the Office of Head Start under the Department of Health and Human Services (Administration for Children and Family), regional offices and government and non-government agencies and grantees and its implementation mechanism. The program has expanded with funding levels authorized by Congress. It also suffers from problems associated with monitoring of implementation, misuse of resources by the grantees. Head Start can be made more successful and politically viable by addressing these problems. Key words: Head Start, Early Head Start, Program Risks. Introduction to Head Start Program Established in 1965, Head Start has been one of the most significant US government social programs for investing in children and their families and communities. First started as an eight-week summer program for poor children, this program covers such areas as education, health, nutrition, social services and parent’s involvement for children’s development. Over time, Head Start has expanded with Congress adding new initiatives, including Early Head Start for low-income families with pregnant women, infants and toddlers. The federal government implements this program in all states as well as in Indian tribal areas, migrant communities and six territories outside the US. It has enrolled 27 million children since its beginning. Goal of Head Start The goal of Head Start is to promote school readiness by enhancing the social and cogitative development of children “through the provision of educational, health, nutritional, social and other services to enrolled children and families” (Office of Head Start, 2011). Supporting Evidence for Implementing Head Start Head Start has been successful in helping children and getting political support. It has served 27 million needy children so far. Puma, Bell, Cook & Heid (2010) found that Head Start has positive impact on children’s preschool experiences, cognitive domain, social-emotional outcomes, health outcomes and parenting outcomes. As a result, the program has enjoyed continued support from the US government and Congress. Successive presidents have asked for its expansion and Congress has approved it and appropriated increasingly large resources. Now Head Start covers education, health, nutrition, social services, parental involvement, pregnant women, infants and toddlers. It has developed standard and practice guidelines for its areas of activities and set up regional and state training and technical assistance centers and family service centers. Early Head Start program has also initiated in 1994 (Head Start History). Thus, Head Start enjoys support from target communities and politicians alike. Achieving Head Start Goal Political support and funding are key to achieving Head Start’s goal. As political support has been strong, the program has not faced any major funding problem so far. According to the Administration for Children and Families (ACF, 2011), the program, initiated with $96.4 million in 1965, has obtained appropriations of $7.2 billion in 2010. While 561,300 children were enrolled in 1965, that number has reached more than 900,000 in 2009 (ACF, 2011). This may change in the future, though. Therefore, continued improvement in performance will be necessary to sustain public and political support for Head Start. Who Does Head Start Support? Children are the main target group of Head Start. The program supports children through childcare, child welfare, addressing development disabilities, and helping families and communities with children, including tribal groups, refugees and low-income families (ACF, 2011). Implementing Agencies The Office of Head Start under the Administration for Children and Families of the Department of Health and Human Services is the federal agency that implements Head Start. ACF implements Head Start activities through its Regional Offices and the Office of Head Start’s American Indian-Alaska Native, and Migrant and Seasonal Program Branches. ACF offers grants to local public agencies, private non-profit and for-profit organizations, Indian tribes and school systems to execute Head Start program at community level (ACF, 2011). ACF provides grants to such agencies and organizations if they come up with 20 percent funding. Cost Effectiveness Although there is no comparative data of cost effectiveness, Head Start has received wide acclaim for its positive contributions to helping children in need. The increasing appropriations for and children enrolment in the program attest to this fact. However, Head Start has not been above criticism in terms of cost and effectiveness. The US Government Accountability Office (GAO) has found that ACF has had insufficient monitoring of implementation, assessment of risks, and collection and analysis of information, including in financial management (2005, p. 32). US House Education and the Workforce Committee (2005) has criticized Head Start for its financial abuses that cheat children, taxpayers and honest grantees. DeParle (1993) says the program suffers from considerable management problems, academic impact of the program on children wears off after three years, and a quarter of Head Start programs are marginal and another quarter poor in quality. The program has always remained underfunded and the test scores of Head Start children have not improved despite significant gains in development domains (Hough, 2007). Future Acceptance These problems are the main barriers to continued public support for Head Start in the future, and they must be seriously to preserve the program now and keep it expanding. Otherwise, the program could face serious cuts in funding. In fact, the House of Representative has recently approved 22.4 percent funding cuts for Head Start in the context of debt reduction (CNN, 2011). To prevent such cuts and to widen public support for the program, the US government must resolve the identified problems and overcome shortcomings. Strategy for Removing Barriers AFC should come up with a strategy to overcome the current problems facing Head Start and make it more cost-effective and result-oriented. This requires resolving the problems identified by GAO and convincing Congress that the program needs to be protected. GAO (2005, p. 32-33) has suggested several measures to make the program more effective and accountable. It has asked Congress to clarify ACF’s authorization to “recompete” grants if the grantees fail to “Head Start’s program or financial management requirements.” GAO has also asked the Executive Branch to improve oversight by producing a comprehensive risk assessment – such as better establishing and assessing program risks, improving the process to collect and analyze information on program risks, and identifying financial risks quickly related to mismanagement of federal funds. It has suggested that ACF take steps to “obtain competition” if the current grantees fail to meet the program’s objectives. AFC should also prove to Congress and public by highlighting the contribution Head Start that the program needs to be protected. By undertaking these measures, Head Start can ensure higher success and increased political support and viability. In conclusion, Head Start is a useful program to help the neediest children and their families. Like any other program, it has some flaws. By removing these flaws, Head Start can protect itself and become a politically viable program. References ACF (Administration for Children and Families of the Department of Health and Human Services), (2010). Retrieved from http://www.acf.hhs.gov/acf_policy_planning.html#policy. ACF, (2011), “About the Office of Head Start.” Retrieved from http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/ohs/about/index.html#mission CNN (2011), “Cutting Head Start is Bad Fiscal Policy.” CNN.com. Retrieved from http://articles.cnn.com/2011-03-14/opinion/mccartney.head.start_1_early-childhood-education-poor-children-single-best-investment?_s=PM:OPINION DeParle, Jason, “Sharp Criticism for Head Start, Even by Friends.” The New York Times, 19 March 1993. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/1993/03/19/us/sharp-criticism-for-head-start-even-by-friends.html GAO (US Government Accountability Office), (2005), Head Start: Comprehensive Approach to Intensifying and Addressing Risks Could Help Prevent Grantee Financial Management Weaknesses. GAO-05-176 Head Start. Head Start History: 1965-present, (n. d.), Retrieved from http://www.paheadstart.org/UserFiles/File/General_History.pdf Hough, Lory, (2007), “A Head Start They Deserve.” Harvard Graduate School of Education, http://www.gse.harvard.edu/news_events/ed/2007/spring/features/headstart.html Office of Head Start, (2010) Retrieved from http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/ohs/about/fy2010.html Puma, Michael, Bell, Stephen, Cook, Rona & Heid, Camilla, (2010), Head Start Impact Study, Administration for Children and Families, DOHHS. Retrieved from http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/opre/hs/impact_study/reports/impact_study/executive_summary_final.pdf US House Education and the Workforce Committee, (2005), News Update, Press Release. Retrieved from http://archives.republicans.edlabor.house.gov/archive/press/press109/first/03mar/headstart031805.htm Read More
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