Thursday, October 23, 2014

Parents Benefit From Head Start Program

October 16, 2014 | by Julie Deardorff

Head Start programs may help low-income parents improve their educational status, according to a new study by Northwestern University researchers.

The study is one of the first to examine whether a child’s participation in the federal program benefits mothers and fathers – in particular parents’ educational attainment and employment.


“In our study, we asked whether there could be a separate story for parents,” said Sabol, an expert in research, practice and policy in early childhood education. “Head Start may provide the ideal place to promote parents’ education via a network of parents and staff, in addition to information and referrals to postsecondary educational opportunities.”

Head Start also may help parents manage their work-school-family balance by providing an affordable, safe place to send their children while they go to work or school.


The study found that parents of 3-year-olds in Head Start had steeper increases in educational attainment, but not their employment by the time their children turned 6 years old, compared to the parents in the control group, whose children were not assigned to Head Start. The pattern was especially strong for parents who were African American and for parents who had at least some college experience but no degree.

“Parents who had some college but no degree were particularly likely to increase their own education due to their children’s participation in Head Start. This suggests that Head Start is particularly helping families who have the motivation to improve their education but need extra support,” said Sabol.

The researchers did not find effects among parents whose children entered at age 4. This may be due to the fact that the 3-year-olds had the opportunity to stay in the program for two years, rather than one. It’s also possible that the parents who enrolled 3-year-olds were different from those who enrolled them at age 4. The children who started at age 3 had parents with higher levels of education at baseline.


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