Head Start Programs:

Participant Characteristics, Services, and Funding

HEHS-98-65: Published: Mar 31, 1998. Publicly Released: Mar 31, 1998.

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Carlotta C. Joyner
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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO provided information on the Head Start Program in preparation for its reauthorization, focusing on: (1) the number and characteristics of those served; (2) the services provided and the way they are provided; (3) federal and nonfederal program dollars received and spent by programs delivering Head Start services; and (4) other programs providing similar early childhood services.

GAO noted that: (1) Head Start served about 782,000 disadvantaged children and 711,000 families in program year 1996-97, according to GAO's review; (2) the demographics of these children and families were similar in many respects; (3) most children were 4 years old and spoke English as their main language; (4) families typically had more than one child and were very poor; (5) through Head Start, children received access to a large array of services, as did their families in some cases; (6) most child and family services, however, were neither paid for nor provided directly by Head Start programs; (7) instead, Head Start programs often functioned as a coordinator or facilitator, referring and linking children and families to needed services; (8) although many families required full-day, full-year child care, Head Start services were typically provided in centers that operated part day on schedules that paralleled the school year; (9) only a small percentage of children attended programs in centers that operated year round; (10) virtually no programs operated on weekends, and only a few operated before 7 a.m. or after 5 p.m.; (11) almost half of the families identified as needing full-day services left their children at a relative's or unrelated adult's home when the children were not in Head Start; (12) most programs responding to GAO's survey secured funding for their operations from multiple sources; (13) among all programs in the states and territories, the average amount of Head Start grant funds per child was $4,637, ranging from a low of $792 to high of $16,206; (14) the additional income programs received from other sources increased the amount of funds available per child to an average of $5,186, 12 percent more income per child; (15) total funds per child varied widely by program, ranging from $1,081 to $17,029 per child; (16) programs spent their income on a variety of services and activities; however, the largest promotion of programs' overall income was spent on education services; (17) most Head Start programs reported that state-funded preschools, other preschools, child development centers and child care centers, and family day care homes operated in the same communities as Head Start programs; and (18) although GAO's review did not determine the extent to which these programs resemble Head Start, some that serve disadvantaged children sometimes help children and families obtain additional services, such as medical services, as Head Start does.

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