What is Early Head Start?

Early Head Start provides early, continuous, intensive, and comprehensive child development and family support services to low-income infants and toddlers and their families, and pregnant women and their families. Early Head Start focuses on promoting school readiness services and advocacy for low-income families to promote optimal child health, nutrition, and development. The program also aims to improve family outcomes through designing responsive services that meet the needs of the community. Services are designed to nurture healthy attachment between parents and their child (and child and caregiver) from pregnancy to the child’s third birthday.

Early Head Start Logo


UCLA Early Head Start staff is committed to providing individualized services for infants, toddlers, pregnant women, and their families to support each child’s optimal development.

Program Philosophy

  • We believe parents want the best future for their children.
  • We believe in early education and good nutrition.
  • We believe parents are their child’s first teacher.
  • We believe everyone deserves an equal opportunity to flourish in education and succeed.
  • We believe that by empowering parents they become their child’s lifelong primary teacher and advocate.
  • We believe parent involvement has a direct impact on the child’s success.
  • We believe children learn different skills by being exposed to different environments and by connecting and engaging parents in the community.
  • We believe a healthy mother develops a healthy child.
  • We believe prenatal care and education is crucial for a child’s optimal development.
  • We believe pregnancy is the first opportunity to create a positive attachment.

The Goals of Early Head Start (Nationally)

  • To provide safe and developmentally enriching caregiving which promotes the physical, cognitive, social and emotional development of infants and toddlers, and prepares them for future growth and development;
  • To support parents, both mothers and fathers, in their role as primary caregivers and teachers of their children, and families in meeting personal goals and achieving self-sufficiency across a wide variety of domains;
  • To mobilize communities to provide the resources and environment necessary to ensure a comprehensive, integrated array of services and support for families;
  • To ensure the provision of high quality responsive services to family through the development of trained, and caring staff.

Source: eclkc.ohs.acf.hhs.gov

Early Head Start Benefits Children and Families

A national evaluation conducted by Mathematica Policy Research, Inc., and Columbia University's Center for Children and Families, in collaboration with the Early Head Start Research Consortium, found that:

  • 3-year-old Early Head Start children performed significantly better on measures of cognitive, language, and social-emotional development than a randomly assigned control group.
  • Parents of Early Head Start 3-year-olds scored significantly higher than control group parents on many aspects of home environment and parenting behavior.

Another large evaluation of Early Head Start, the Early Head Start Research and Evaluation Project (EHSREP), involved 3,001 children and families in 17 sites; half received EHS services and half were randomly assigned to a control group that did not receive EHS services. Parents and children were assessed when the children were 14, 24, and 36 months old. Families were also interviewed about their use of a wide range of services at 6, 15, and 26 months after enrollment, and when they exited the program.

Source: Overall Impacts at Age 3

Overall Impact at Age 3

  • Early Head Start (EHS) program children had a mean score of 91.4 on the Bayley Mental Development Index, compared with 89.9 for control group children. EHS children had a mean score of 83.3 on the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test, compared to 81.1 for the control group. Early Head Start children were significantly less likely than control group children to score in the at-risk range of developmental functioning as tested in both the Bayley and Peabody measures.
  • EHS children engaged their parents more, were less negative toward their parents, and more attentive to objects during play.
  • EHS parents rated their children as lower in aggressive behavior than control parents did.
  • EHS parents were more emotionally supportive and less detached than control group.
  • EHS parents were more likely to report reading to their child every day; 56.8 percent of EHS parents compared to 52.0% of control group.
  • EHS parents were less likely to report having spanked their children in the past week (46.7 percent program parents vs. 53.8 percent control group parents). EHS parents reported a greater repertoire of discipline strategies, including milder and fewer punitive strategies.
  • EHS fathers were less likely to report spanking their children during the previous week; 25.4 percent of program fathers vs. 35.6 percent of control fathers.
  • EHS program children were observed to be more able to engage their fathers and to be more attentive during play.

Source: Overall Impacts at Age 3