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Early Head Start (EHS)

Health Factors: Education
Decision Makers: Community Members Educators Local Government State Government Federal Government
Evidence Rating: Scientifically Supported
Population Reach: 1-9% of WI's population
Impact on Disparities: Likely to decrease disparities

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Early Head Start (EHS NRC) is a federally funded program for low income pregnant women and children ages 0 to 3. EHS’ comprehensive approach includes child care, parent education, health and mental health services, and family support. EHS programs can be home-based, center-based, or offer a mix of home and center services (PPN).

Expected Beneficial Outcomes

Improved cognitive skills
Improved social emotional skills
Improved family functioning
Reduced aggression
Reduced stress
Improved parenting
Increased school readiness
Increased family income
Reduced hospital utilization

Evidence of Effectiveness

There is strong evidence that Early Head Start (EHS NRC) increases participating children’s cognitive and social-emotional skills (PPN, Vogel 2013, Chazan-Cohen 2013). Small social-emotional effects appear to continue through age 10 (Mathematica-Vogel 2010).

EHS modestly improves attention and focus (Vogel 2013), language (Chazan-Cohen 2013), cognitive and social emotional skills (e.g., social functioning and emotional regulation) (PPN, Harden 2012, Vogel 2013) and reduces aggressive behavior among participating children (Vogel 2013). Enhanced language skills can help children better control themselves and regulate emotions, reducing parental stress and improving parent-child interactions (Ayoub 2011).

EHS can improve parenting (Vogel 2013, Vallotton 2011), parent supportiveness, and engagement (Harden 2012), and increase use of positive discipline (Chazan-Cohen 2013) while reducing spanking (Harden 2012). EHS can also bolster parent’s ability to cognitively stimulate and positively interact with children despite high stress (Ayoub 2011). EHS can lead parents to create home environments that support learning (Harden 2012, Vogel 2013) and enroll their children in formal pre-kindergarten programs (Harden 2012). Stress can harm children's vocabulary development, but in some circumstances, EHS can help children develop vocabulary despite family stress (Vallotton 2011).

Parent participants in home-based EHS have demonstrated increases in school or job training participation and sustained improvements in income (Chazan-Cohen 2013). Income effects can be stronger in higher quality programs offering more child and family services (Harden 2012).

EHS can be especially effective for black participants (PPN, Vallotton 2011, Raikes 2013). Compared to controls, black parent participants are more likely to be employed or in school, and report a small reduction in their children’s hospitalization needs (Harden 2012a). Some outcomes may also last longer for black participants than for white participants (Raikes 2013). EHS can also be especially effective for girls’ language skills (Ayoub 2011), and can improve vocabulary for ESL speakers by the time they enter kindergarten (Vogel 2013, Raikes 2013).


United States

In 2012-13, 150,000 children were enrolled in Early Head Start, about 4% of children ages 0-3 who live in poverty (Child Trends-Head Start 2015).


In 2009-2010, 20 Wisconsin EHS programs served a total of 2,175 infants and toddlers. Five programs served American Indian communities, and six were newly established using American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funds. The federal government funded 94% of EHS services and Wisconsin contributed the other 6% (WHSA). 

Implementation Resources

EHS NRC - Early Head Start National Resource Center (EHS NRC). Accessed on October 17, 2018

Citations - Description

EHS NRC - Early Head Start National Resource Center (EHS NRC). Accessed on October 17, 2018
PPN - Promising Practices Network (PPN). On children, families and communities. Accessed on October 17, 2018

Citations - Evidence

Ayoub 2011* - Ayoub C, Mastergeorge AM, Vallotton CD. Developmental pathways to integrated social skills: The roles of parenting and early intervention. Child Development. 2011;82(2):583-600. Accessed on October 17, 2018
Chazan-Cohen 2013 - Chazan-Cohen R, Raikes HH, Vogel C. Program subgroups: Patterns of impacts for home-based, center-based, and mixed-approach programs. Monograph of the Society for Research in Child Development. 2013;78(1):93–109. Accessed on October 17, 2018
EHS NRC - Early Head Start National Resource Center (EHS NRC). Accessed on October 17, 2018
Harden 2012* - Harden BJ, Chazan-Cohen R, Raikes H, Vogel C. Early Head Start home visitation: The role of implementation in bolstering program benefits. Journal of Community Psychology. 2012;40(4):438–55. Accessed on October 17, 2018
Harden 2012a* - Harden BJ, Sandstrom H, Chazen-Cohen R. Early Head Start and African American families: Impacts and mechanisms of child outcomes. Early Childhood Research Quarterly. 2012;27(4):572-81. Accessed on October 17, 2018
Mathematica-Vogel 2010 - Vogel CA, Xue Y, Moiduddin EM, Carlson B. Early head start children in grade 5: Long-term follow-up of the early head start research and evaluation project study sample. Princeton: Mathematica Policy Research for the Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation (OPRE), Administration for Children and Families (ACF), US Department of Health and Human Services (US DHHS); 2010: OPRE 2011-8. Accessed on October 17, 2018
PPN - Promising Practices Network (PPN). On children, families and communities. Accessed on October 17, 2018
Raikes 2013 - Raikes HH, Vogel C, Love JM. IV. Family subgroups and impacts at age 2, 3, and 5: Variability by race/ethnicity and demographic risk. Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development. 2013;78(1):64-92. Accessed on October 17, 2018
Vallotton 2011* - Vallotton CD, Harewood T, Ayoub CA, et al. Buffering boys and boosting girls. The protective and promotive effects of Early Head Start for children's expressive language in the context of parenting stress. Early Childhood Research Quarterly. 2012;27(4):695-707. Accessed on October 17, 2018
Vogel 2013 - Vogel C, Brooks-Gunn J, Martin A, Klute MM. Impacts of Early Head Start participation on child and parent outcomes at ages 2, 3, and 5. Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development. 2013;78(1):36–63. Accessed on October 17, 2018

Citations - Implementation

Child Trends-Head Start 2015 - Child Trends Databank. Head Start; 2015. Accessed on December 4, 2018
WHSA - Wisconsin Head Start Association (WHSA). Early childhood education for Wisconsin families and their children. Accessed on October 17, 2018

Page Last Updated

October 9, 2014

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