What Early Head Start is

Early Head Start is a federal program for infants and toddlers up to 3 years old, their families, and pregnant women. The program offers:

  • Early intervention for infants and toddlers with delays or medical diagnoses
  • Developmental support for infants and toddlers
  • Parental support, education, and involvement
  • Referrals for social services
  • Health, dental, nutrition, mental health, and social services
  • Home visits
  • Transition planning
  • Prenatal services and education for pregnant women

Places where you can get Early Head Start services can include:

  • A facility such as a community center or church that is home to a Head Start program
  • Your own home
  • An in-home child care center

Early Head Start and ECI

Early Head Start programs work with Early Childhood Intervention (ECI) programs to serve eligible infants and toddlers with developmental delays or medical diagnoses. If your baby qualifies for ECI, you will work with a team to develop an Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP). This plan will contain the services your child and family will receive and the goals and strategies that will be used to help your baby grow and develop. 

If your child does not qualify for Early Head Start you can contact your local ECI program  to see what services your child does qualify for.  

Who can get services

Early Head Start and Head Start programs are for:

  • Children with disabilities, no matter the family’s income. 10% of program enrollment is reserved for children with disabilities
  • Children from families whose income is below the national poverty level defined by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services 
  • Children from homeless families
  • Children from families who receive public assistance such as Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
  • Children in foster care, no matter the foster family’s income

Early Head Start services are also available for:

  • Pregnant women with incomes below the national poverty guidelines


  • Usually, family income will determine if your child is eligible for Early Head Start or Head Start, but local programs can make decisions about eligibility
  • Don’t guess or assume about your eligibility. Ask your local program about options
  • Early Head Start and Head Start programs are NOT available in every community
  • Some Head Start programs are for 3- and 4-year-olds, but some are only for 4-year-olds. Ask your local program what ages they serve

How to find a program, apply or get more info

Find an Early Head Start or a Head Start program near you with the Head Start Locator  or call toll free at 866-763-6481.

Apply for Head Start by contacting the program that serves your community. They will give you the application forms and answer your questions. Ask them what documents you need to bring when you apply.