Among children whose families were at high risk of poverty and/or low educational attainment, head start had favorable impacts on social-emotional development, parenting, and the home environment. These impacts emerged when participants were younger than three and continued through the end of first grade.
Moreover, when they were older and had completed kindergarten, former Early Head Start children were significantly more likely than control group children to be enrolled in formal preschool programs (U.S. DHHS, 2010b).
They also had enhanced early reading skills and fewer behavior problems than control group children. This may be because the EHS program provides a protective factor when it comes to behavior issues, such as aggression or being withdrawn and/or hyperactive.
These benefits were most apparent for African-American children but not Hispanic or white children, nor for children of mothers with less than a high school education. These effects were sustained two years later, and the benefits appeared to be larger for African-American participants than for any other racial group or for those who did not attend preschool.
These findings support the long-standing belief that disadvantaged young children benefit from programs that help them in their formative years. This belief is based on the premise that the first three years of life are crucial for human development. In particular, these children learn social skills and a wide variety of academic and nonacademic abilities. Consequently, their success in life depends heavily on the quality of early childhood experiences.