Skip to content
Mel Gravely

ERSEA Cheat Sheet: Head Start Eligibility

ersea eligibilityWho is eligible for Head Start services? There are many components to a Head Start Program. Each program may have different options such as home-based, center-based, prenatal program. Eligibility is the longest section in the Performance standards. Yes, it’s that detailed and important! For every family that applies to your program, the first step is determining, verifying, and documenting eligibility.

In short, you must first: (1302.12)

  1. Conduct an in-person interview with each family. Program staff may interview the family over the telephone if an in-person interview is not possible or convenient for the family.
  2. Verify information as required.
  3. Create an eligibility determination record for enrolled participants.

What are eligibility requirements?

  1. Family’s income is equal to or below the poverty line; or
  2. The family is eligible for or, in the absence of child care, would be potentially eligible for public assistance; including TANF child-only payments; or,
  3. The child is homeless; or,
  4. The child is in foster care.

You can have up to 10 percent of your enrollment be over the poverty line. You may also enroll an additional 35 percent of participants whose families are within the 100 and 130 percent of the poverty line, if you are sure you are meeting the needs of eligible families. If you choose to do so, you must report and be able to justify this to the Head Start regional office, according to the criteria in the Performance Standards.

You must have the proper documentation to document eligibility. As this is crucial to running a Head Start program, it is best that you review the Head Start Performance Standards to see how this applies to each situation. If you would like better elucidation, we have great ERSEA trainings, and can clearly explain this vital topic.

A program must keep eligibility determination records for each participant and ongoing records of the eligibility training for staff required by paragraph. These records can be kept electronically. You must keep eligibility determination records for those enrolled for one year after they leave the program.

An eligibility determination record should include:

  1. Copies of documents/statements used to verify eligibility
  2. Description of efforts made to verify eligibility
  3. Statement that program staff has made reasonable efforts to verify information
  4. Statement that identifies eligibility determination

Check out the Head Start Eligibility Verification Form.

Do you have written policies and procedures that describe all actions taken against staff who intentionally violate federal and program eligibility determination regulations?

All governing body, policy council, management, and staff who determine eligibility must be trained on applicable federal regulations and program policies and procedures. Management and staff who make Eligibility Determinations must be trained within 90 days of hire. Governing body and policy council members must be trained within 180 days of a new term. You need to develop policies on how often training will be provided after the initial training.

What is required to be included in the training?

  1. Methods of collecting accurate eligibility information from families and third parties
  2. Strategies for treating families with dignity and respect when dealing with possible issues of domestic violence, stigma and privacy
  3. Explanation of policies and procedures taken against staff, families or participants who intentionally attempt to provide or provide false information or intentionally enroll ineligible children.

Proper preparation and training will help you implement these provisions.



  1. Mae McKenzie says:

    Good morning!

    This tool is awesome!!! I definitely will use the cheat sheets. Thank you!

  2. Judy Johnson says:

    On your training area, I recognized some of the listed requirements, but could you give me the policies that states the 3 of these requirements? I am aware of #1 and #3 for staff only but is the balance, preference and not policy?

Leave a Comment