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Mel Gravely

The Importance of Health Program Services in Head Start

A child with health problems, whether oral, mental or nutrition concerns, will have difficulty learning. That’s why it’s up to us, Head Start staff, to provide the high-quality health services, that will help each child grow.

According to section 1302.40 (a) of Head Start Performance Standards: “A program must provide high-quality health, oral health, mental health, and nutrition services that are developmentally, culturally, and linguistically appropriate and that will support each child’s growth and school readiness. ”

Whew! What a mouthful! That sentence starts the Health Program Services section in the Performance Standards. Health has always been at the forefront of Head Start, as part of the program’s  “whole child philosophy.” With the new Head Start Performance Standards, it hasn’t been left behind. However, it is more integrally tied in with family engagement. If you consider this for a moment, this makes a lot of sense. Who better than parents can let us know what their health needs and concerns are, how we can guide this family onto a healthy start for life?

Health holds a significant role across the board – from the Head Start Prenatal programs, which start guiding moms early on to Early Head Start to Family Child Care and on through Head Start. While it is up to the wonderful health staff to take care of much of it, parents must be involved as much as possible, to ensure that the health gains in Head Start is something that will stay in the child’s life forever.

How do you involve parents in health services? One straightforward way is via the Health Advisory committee, where they can voice their concerns and opinions along with professionals and volunteers. Involving parents will make this job easier and more rewarding and is also noted in 1302.40 (b): “A program must establish and maintain a Health Services Advisory Committee that includes Head Start parents, professionals, and other volunteers from the community.”

Care must also be taken to ensure eve1rything is linguistically and culturally appropriate: 1302.41 (a): “For all activities described in this part, programs must collaborate with parents as partners in the health and well-being of their children in a linguistically and culturally appropriate manner and communicate with parents about their child’s health needs and development concerns in a timely and effective manner. ”

How do you involve parents in your health services at Head Start?

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