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Study Shows Broad Impact of Head Start in Rural Areas


A study by the Center for American Progress on Head Start shows the program impacts more than early childhood education. The report finds Head Start programs account for 60% of childcare centers in rural South Dakota. 

Leila Schochet is the research and advocacy manager for early childhood policy at the Center for American Progress. She’s also one of the authors of the recent report on Head Start in rural America. She says the report stems from previous research showing a majority of people in rural areas live in “childcare deserts,” where supply of licensed childcare facilities doesn’t meet the demand. For example, 18 counties in South Dakota do not have any licensed childcare centers beyond Head Start.

Schochet says the federal program is a significant source of childcare and other social services in areas with limited resources.

“In addition to providing quality early childhood education, they also look at, ‘Ok, what kind of health services do children need to be brought up to date on?’ Including things like immunizations, dental screenings, developmental screenings," says Schochet. "So there’s a wide array of health services that are given to children, and then their families are also receiving important comprehensive services.”

Some of those services to families include job training, substance abuse treatment, and mental health services for parents.

Schochet says this information can be a better guide for policy making, rather than focusing only on the academic outcomes of children in Head Start programs.

“Our research is suggesting that the policy discussion should also really consider the important role that Head Start is playing in the supply of center-based early childhood programs, as well as a service provider in rural communities,” she says.

The Center for American Progress report shows 66% of rural South Dakota families enrolled in Head Start receive some kind of service beyond early childhood education.