Description of Standards
Head Start and Early Head Start (throughout this description, the term "Head Start" will be used to include both Head Start and Early Head Start programs) are comprehensive child development and family focused programs which serve children from birth to age five, pregnant women, children with disabilities and their families. Head Start was designed to help break the cycle of poverty by providing preschool children of low-income families with a comprehensive program to meet their emotional, social, intellectual, health, nutritional, and psychological needs.
Head Start services are family-centered, guided by the belief that children develop within the context of their family and culture and that parents should be respected as the primary educators and nurturers of their children. Head Start offers family members opportunities and support for growth and change, believing that people can identify their own strengths, needs and interests and are capable of finding solutions. Head Start embraces a core set of values to support the overall goal of improving social competence, including commitments to:
- Respecting the importance of all aspects of the child's development, including social, emotional, cognitive and physical growth;
- Embracing a comprehensive vision of health and nutrition for children, families and staff that assures that basic health needs are met, encourages practices that prevent future illnesses and injuries;
- Establishing a supportive learning environment for children, parents and staff, in which the processes of enhancing awareness, refining skills and increasing understanding are valued and promoted;
- Recognizing that the members of the Head Start community--children, families and staff-have roots in many cultures;
- Understanding that the empowerment of families occurs when program governance is a responsibility shared by families, governing bodies and staff, and when the ideas and opinions of families are heard and respected;
- Fostering relationships with the larger community so that families and staff are respected and served by a network of community agencies in partnership with one another; and
- Developing a continuum of care, education and services that allows stable, uninterrupted support to families and children during and after their Head Start experience.
Head Start is committed to cultivating partnerships in the community through the establishment of meaningful links with community organizations and programs focused on early childhood development, family support, health and education. Each Head Start agency ensures that children and families receive an array of individualized services, and that community resources are used in an efficient and effective manner.
The Head Start Program Performance Standards are designed to ensure that the Head Start philosophy continues to strive for excellence in program management that supports the provision of quality services for children and families. Parent policy groups and strong governing bodies play a critical role in overseeing the implementation Head Start legislation, regulations and policies. To achieve national excellence, local agencies are required to establish effective management systems and procedures for program, fiscal and human resources. It is mandatory that grantee and delegate agencies abide by the above referenced performance standards in order to operate a Head Start program.
Head Start has played a major role in focusing the attention of the nation on the importance of early childhood development, especially in the first five years of life. The program has had a dramatic impact on child development and child care services; on the expansion of State and local activities for children; on the range and quality of services offered to young children and their families; and on the design of training activities for those who staff such programs. Outreach and training efforts of Head Start programs have helped provide low-income parents with the knowledge and services they need to build a better life for their children. Direct involvement of parents in Head Start planning and policy making has given families a greater role in the development of their children.
National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) is a national membership organization whose primary purpose is to act on behalf of the needs and interest of young children by providing developmental and educational resources to adults who work with children from birth through age eight. This goal translates into sponsoring activities that are designed to improve the professional practice of early childhood educators and to education the American public about the importance of good quality early childhood programs.
Certainly one of the most ambitious initiatives NAEYC has ever undertaken was launching the National Academy of Early Childhood Programs in 1985. This was the first professionally sponsored, voluntary accreditation system for early childhood centers and schools in the country. The National Academy of Early Childhood Programs defines a high quality early childhood program as one, which meets the needs of and promotes the physical, social, emotional, and cognitive development of the children as well as working with the adults-parents, staff and administrators who are involved in the program. Each day of a child's life is viewed as leading toward the growth and development of a healthy, intelligent and contributing member of society.
The Academy's Criteria for High Quality Early Childhood Programs represent the consensus of the early childhood profession regarding the definition of a good quality group program for young children. The Criteria were developed over a three-year period by reviewing approximately fifty evaluation documents and research literature on the effects on children of various components of an early childhood programs, and they draw on the knowledge and practical experience of thousands of early childhood educators throughout the country. The criteria themselves serve as a set of standards of excellence for programs, both new and existing. The Accreditation Criteria are applied in a three-step process: self-study, on-site validation, and Commission decision. Each step in the process involves collaboration. During the process directors, teachers, and parents work together to measure their practice against the Criteria and to make needed program improvements. This system is both objective and subjective. It sets a standard of excellence, but also allows for the diversity that exists in the field. The accreditation system of the Academy is designed to meet two major goals:
- To help early childhood program personnel become involved in a process that will facilitate real and lasting improvements in the quality of the program serving young children; and,
- To evaluate the quality of the program for the purpose of accrediting those programs that substantially complies with the criteria for high quality programs.
The accreditation criterion, policies and procedures are designed to achieve these goals.
Accreditation of early childhood programs helps teachers and directors evaluate and improve their practice and helps parents make informed decisions, but most of all it helps the children. All children who participate in early childhood programs deserve to benefit and grow from the experience.
All of their families need the assurance that their children are cared for and educated in the best possible environments.
The National Association of Family Child Care (NAFCC) is a national organization working with more than 400 state and local family child care provider associations throughout the United States. These groups represent increasing numbers of the more than one million family child care providers caring for more than four million children in the country. The NAFCC is funded through membership dues, non-due related revenue, and grants.
The NAFCC Accreditation is:
- A system to help providers assess the quality of their programs, update their skills as needed and gain the recognition they deserve.
- A nationally recognized definition of high quality child care, developed with diverse providers, parents, and other early childhood professionals.
- A way for providers to signify to parents and community members the special quality of their family child care and to help parents chose high quality child care.
- A reliable method for identifying high quality care for public policy makers.
Benefits of NADCC accreditation include:
- Professional development and quality improvement.
- Recognition form parents, other providers, and their community.
- A way for providers (in the future) to earn higher reimbursement rates or parent fees. In several states higher subsidy rates for accredited care are already offered. In one state double the dependent care tax credit is offered to parents whose children are enrolled in an accredited program.
- Membership of NAFCC, the national professional organization for providers who work in their own homes.
- Opportunities for future professional development such as becoming a mentor to other providers, a validator for NAFCC, or a trainer.
New York State Center-Based and Family Child Care Regulations - Regulations governing the care of children in programs outside of the home were initiated in New York City in the early 1900s. Originally child care programs were referred to as day nurseries which were established to care for and protect the children of poor families while the parents worked. Day nurseries peaked at the turn of the century and only a few survived to become child care programs. New York State began to regulate child care in 1973 because of increased use of centers and the publicity around poor care. Originally based on the Federal Inter Agency Day Care Requirements, the regulatory codes were first published in 1977 and in 1978. (Mitchell, 2002) The regulations have since been revised on several occasions.
The regulations are based in statute, see section 390 of the New York State Social Services Law. The NYS Office of Children and Family Services is charged with developing and enforcing regulations for all forms of child day care including center-based and family child care. In New York City, child care centers are licensed and regulated by the New York City Department of Health under a different set of regulations. The primary purpose of the regulations is to ensure the health and safety of children in care. To meet this purpose, the regulations include standards for staff qualifications, training, program design, and administration and, as such, serve to ensure a minimum level of program quality. However, as is true with many other human service programs (e.g., health care), establishing standards of program quality and assisting programs and providers reach these higher standards is the responsibility of the profession (i.e., National Association for the Education of Young Children and the National Family Child Care Association).
The NYS Office of Children and Families has established a number of programs and initiatives to help programs meet the necessary level of program quality to become licensed or registered and support program and provider efforts to offer a level of quality programming that exceeds the regulations. These include:
- offering financial assistance to staff and providers to obtain education and training through the Educational Incentive Program;
- providing financial supports to programs and providers to afford the costs of accreditation including covering costs associated with program and facility changes needed to meet accreditation standards; and
- enabling counties and municipalities to pay a higher rate for subsidized child care to accredited programs.