History & Facts

History of Head Start

In 1964, the Federal Government created a panel of child development experts to design a program to help communities overcome the barriers of young children living in poverty. The findings of that panel report became the blueprint for Project Head Start.

Project Head Start, launched as an eight-week summer program by the Office of Economic Opportunity in 1965, 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, health, nutritional, and psychological needs. Recruiting children age three to school entry age, Head Start was enthusiastically received by education, child development specialists, community leaders and parents across the nation.

In 1969, Head Start was transferred from the Office of Economic Opportunity to the Office of Child Development in the US Department of Health, Education and Welfare, and has now become a program within the Administration on Children, Youth and Families in the Department of Health and Human Services. A well established, though still an innovative program, Head Start has had a strong impact on communities and early childhood programs across the country.

Head Start programs are operated by over 1500 community-based organizations. Grantees include school districts, universities, community health centers, tribal governments, Alaska Native Corporation, city and county governments, Community Action Agencies, and other profit and nonprofit organizations.

Utah Community Action’s Head Start History

Salt Lake Community Action Program, doing business as Utah Community Action (UCA), opened its first Head Start program in the summer of 1965, with 34 students in two classrooms. By September of 1966 the program was deemed so successful Salt Lake CAP was funded to run the program during the school year.

Throughout the past 46 years, UCA has been the grantee agency for the Salt Lake and Tooele counties. In the late 60′s, Granite and Salt Lake City School Districts became delegates of the UCA program; administering Head Start programs in Granite, Jordan and Salt Lake City schools. In 1993 Jordan School District was added as a delegate to administer their area.

In an effort to ensure equal quality to all Head Start families, Utah Community Action became the single Head Start Grantee in 2000, fully administering the program without the use of delegates. This transition has lead to a stronger program, being the foremost supplier of quality early childhood services in the Salt Lake and Tooele counties. Currently UCA Head Start serves over 2400 families in 84 classrooms each year.

Head Start Service Facts

  • We serve over 2400 families during the school year.
  • Our service area includes all of Salt Lake and Tooele Counties.
  • Our classrooms are located throughout this service area varying in classroom style from a Head Start Center, which holds over 400 children to single site classrooms in public schools or community partnership centers.
  • We partner with school districts for special services such as food, special needs support, play areas, and other educational programs. Each district’s partnership varies based on the needs of both programs and available resources.
  • We offer half-day, single-session with extended day, and home-based programs.


  • In a comparative study investigating the motivation of children enrolled in Head Start, children in cities who were not enrolled in Head Start, and middle class children enrolled in an affiliated preschool, Head Start children were found to have a greater degree of motivation than their non-Head Start peers.
  • Head Start has immediate positive effects on children’s socio-emotional development, including self-esteem, achievement motivation, and social behavior. By the end of their Head Start year, children scored higher in all three areas than their non Head Start peers.
  • Head Start parents reported positive changes in their personal lives, behaviors, and attitudes-including an increase in knowledge of available social services and resources.
  • Head Start children participate more fully in school and are less often identified as children with serious academic problems than those not enrolled in early childhood programs.
  • Young women who have experienced a quality early childhood program are one-third less likely to have out-of-wedlock births and 25 percent less likely to be teen mothers. The cost to society for teenage childbearing is extremely high.
  • At-risk children, not afforded the opportunity to participate in a quality early childhood program, are five times more likely to be arrested repeatedly by age 27. Furthermore, there is evidence that the nature of the crimes coming from program children are of a less serious nature.
  • Parents who are more actively involved with Head Start are found to have greater life quality and satisfaction and increased confidence in coping abilities, decreased feelings of anxiety, depression and sickness. Gains in psychological well-being are also found.
  • Analysis of data from a study conducted on low-income preschool children revealed that Head Start fosters long-term parental involvement from generation to generation.
  • In a George Mason University poll, 86 percent of police chiefs nationwide said, “expanding after school and child care programs like Head Start will greatly reduce youth crime and violence.”

(Above information compiled from The Impact of Head Start Children, Families, and Communities: Head Start Synthesis Project (1995); US. Department of Health And Human Services, Administration for Children, Youth, and Families) excluding the last notation of the George Mason University Poll.

Head Start Statistics

Information from Family and Child Experiences Survey (FACES), an ongoing, national, longitudinal study of 3,200 children and families in 40 Head Start programs. The four central questions related to program performance are as follows:

Does Head Start enhance children’s development and school readiness?

Children leaving Head Start are indeed “ready to learn,” because they have, in fact learned a great deal by the end of Kindergarten. By the spring of the Kindergarten year, Head Start graduates made substantial gains in word knowledge, letter recognition, math skills and writing skills relative to national norms.

Does Head Start strengthen families as the primary nurturers of their children?

More than two-thirds of Head Start parents reported reading to their children at least three to five times a week. Frequency of parental reading, especially daily reading, was linked to higher child vocabulary development.

Across all households, family activities with Head Start children increased over the course of the year.

Head Start parents cited Head Start as an important source of support in rearing their children. In addition, Head Start parents reported a greater sense of control over their own lives at the end of Head Start than at the beginning.

Does Head Start provide children with high quality educational, health and nutritional services?

Ratios are low, and seventy five percent of Head Start classrooms were rated as good or better. These ratings compare favorably with other studies of preschool and child care.

Head Start teachers have very good teaching qualifications. Nearly one-third of all Head Start teachers had a bachelor’s or graduate degree, and teachers averaged nearly 12 years of teaching experience.

How is classroom quality related to child outcomes?

Children in classrooms rated higher in learning environment materials spent more time in simple interactive play or pretend play, and they spent less time in non-interactive play. Observed play behavior is a key indicator of social development.

Children in classrooms with richer teacher-child interaction and more language learning opportunities have higher vocabulary scores. And children in Head Start classrooms with lower child: adult ratios show greater gains in vocabulary scores over the Head Start year.