THE BLOG
01/26/2015 04:41 pm ET Updated Mar 28, 2015

Head Start: Embracing a Two Generation Approach to Early Learning

David Lees via Getty Images

When Head Start was launched in 1965, at its core was the idea that families and communities were integral to supporting children's successful early learning and development. Fifty years later, Head Start continues to lead in two generational approaches, always emphasizing that parents -- as their children's first teachers -- are a program's most important partners.

Head Start and Early Head Start programs in diverse communities across the country have pioneered new and innovative designs for whole-family approaches that are tailored to their community's distinct needs. Thanks to reliable federal funding that allows for local flexibility, Head Start programs have built partnerships with colleges, workforce agencies, banks, employers, foundations, hospitals, state agencies, and more, establishing a two-generation infrastructure for success in their communities.

Two Generations Together, a report recently released by the National Head Start Association in partnerships with Ascend at the Aspen Institute, highlights the exceptional efforts of several Head Start programs in designing effective whole family approaches that address their community's unique needs, while focusing on engaging both children and their parents. From the College Access and Success program in Manhattan's Lower East Side to the Live and Learn CDA Credentialing program in Phoenix, the programs featured in the report exemplify the transformative power of two-generation solutions that stabilize whole families for generations to come.

The Head Start programs detailed in the report include AVANCE-Houston; Educational Alliance in New York City; Pacific Clinics in Pasadena; Friends of Children of Mississippi in Jackson; Parents in Community Action (PICA) in Minneapolis; and Southwest Human Development in Phoenix. The case studies in this report reinforce the value of Head Start's longstanding two-generational approach to achieving stability and success.

AVANCE-Houston Inc, for example, serves over 3,0000 children each day in northwest Harris County, Texas. Their two-generation vision is rooted in the Parent Child Education Program (PCEP) which has several interlocking components including early childhood through Head Start, adult education, computer literacy, marriage and parenting support, and a myriad of other resources supported by community partners. Research shows that over 40 years of implementation of the PCEP model, 90% of children have gone on to graduate high school and parents have improved their employment and increased home ownership.

Decades of research prove that children's outcomes are deeply related to family context, which is why every Head Start and Early Head Start family works with an advocate who helps parents conduct a family needs assessment and create a partnership agreement that lays out goals for both children and parents. Whether they are immediate needs like safe housing and getting food on the table, or long-term aspirations for college degrees and fulfilling careers, these goals empower families to achieve educational success as well as economic security.

While Head Start has long recognized the importance of a whole child and whole family model, new national awareness has led to increased attention, funding, policy, and research around two-generation efforts. Americans across demographics and on both sides of the aisle overwhelmingly believe a two-generation approach to early learning is the most effective way to lift families out of poverty. According to a recent report released by the Aspen Institute, 84% of Americans agree that Head Start and Early Head Start should partner with organizations that help the parents of low-income children further their education and receive job training.

As Head Start celebrates its 50th anniversary year, we must continue to embrace policies that support the proven two-generation efforts that have been fundamental to the comprehensive Head Start model since its conception.