Early Head Start

Between conception and age three, a child's brain develops at an astonishing pace. Children living in poverty during these early years face developmental disadvantages as a result of social deprivation, language deficits, and heightened levels of stress, fear and uncertainty. Children in poverty are also the most likely to benefit from access to high quality, center based, early care and education. However, these programs are often expensive, placing them beyond the means of the families who need them the most, which makes it especially important to make use of local resources like the Shelby County Head Start Program.

Early Head Start (EHS) is a federally funded community-based program for pregnant women and low-income families with infants and toddlers. It was created in 1994 to help bridge the developmental discrepancies between lower and middle income children. EHS helps children become better prepared for school and ready for academic success. Its mission is to advance the early educational experiences of low-incomes babies and toddlers by promoting healthy prenatal outcomes for pregnant women, enhancing the development of very young children, and promoting healthy family functioning.

Early Head Start provides children with a variety of learning experiences and offers many opportunities for children to express themselves through art, music, movement, and storytelling.  Children participate in indoor and outdoor play; learn about books, words, numbers and the world around them.  Children are encouraged to communicate their ideas and feelings, and to develop self-confidence and the ability to get along with others. 
Locally, the Shelby County Head Start program also works with children and parents to help them make a successful transition to kindergarten. They offer comprehensive health care for every child, including immunizations, a complete health examination with a screening for chronic and disabling conditions, a vision and hearing test, a dental exam and a speech screening. Shelby County EHS also promotes mental health, by providing access to mental health professionals to help identify children’s mental health needs. 

Parents are encouraged to become involved in every aspect of Head Start. Parents and family members work in partnership with the staff to set goals for their child’s and family’s development.  An individualized plan is designed to assist them in achieving their family goals.  Parents are encouraged to share their ideas and opinions, to visit the program, and to participate in Parent Committee and other group activities.  Parents can attend classes and workshops to learn about parenting, nutrition, safety practices, preparing for jobs, and many other topics.  Parents also have an important voice in program decision-making by serving as elected members of the Head Start program’s Policy Council and/or Policy Committees.  EHS offers developmentally appropriate early learning, parent support and visitation and access to medical, therapeutic and early intervention services. EHS promotes physical, social, emotional and cognitive development within the framework of the family, home environment and other child-focused settings.

To find a Head Start program near you, please visit the Shelby County  Head Start website.