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Your guide to Head Start terms and acronyms.

Below is a list of Head Start terms and acronyms that are commonly used in Head Start grant applications and reports to the Board and Policy Council.

For a glossary of terms that appear in the Head Start Program Performance Standards, please visit the Early Childhood Learning and Knowledge Center.

Accreditation. A process that validates and acknowledges quality early childhood programs. It involves the early childhood program in a self-study to systematically evaluate their processes, activities and achievements and identify areas in need of improvement, in comparison with professional standards. 

Administration for Children and Families (ACF). A division of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) that promotes the economic and social well-being of families, children, youth, individuals and communities with funding strategic partnerships, guidance and technical assistance. Head Start programs are funded through ACF.


Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). A civil rights law that prohibits discrimination based on disability. It affords similar protections against discrimination to Americans with disabilities as the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which made discrimination based on race, religion, sex, national origin, and other characteristics illegal, and later sexual orientation.


Ad Hoc Committee.  A committee established for a specific amount of time to accomplish a specific task. 


Advisory Committee.  Any group which serves an advisory rather than a policy-making or decision-making role.


American Indian-Alaska Native (AIAN).  This program branch provides American Indian and Alaska Native children and families nationally with comprehensive health, educational, nutritional, socialization and other developmental services promoting school readiness.


Assessment.  The ongoing process of observation and recording initiated by teachers that provides information about children's development (social, emotional, cognitive, fine and gross motor abilities, speech and language), identifying children's specific strengths and needs. The results of classroom assessment provide the basis for individualizing the curriculum for children. 


Audit. A process that determines whether the agency's financial operations manage itself in compliance with laws and regulations regarding expenditures of funds, accurately produce financial statements representing the agency's financial position, and establish and implement internal procedures for managing and reporting on expenditure of funds. 


By-laws. The common rules agreed upon by an organization under which it operates. By-laws are used by Head Start policy groups, such as the Policy Council and Governing Body. 


Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP).  CACFP partially reimburses the program for nutritious meals served to children in attendance in the program.  Also see USDA definition. 


Community Action Program (CAP).  An organization funded by the Community Services Block Grant (CSBG) to administer and coordinate on a community wide basis, a variety of anti-poverty programs which often includes Head Start.


Child Development Associate (CDA).  An early childhood educator who has demonstrated skills in working with young children and their families by successfully completing a formal credentialing process.


Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA). Programs must use COLA funds, when awarded, to permanently increase the salaries of Head Start and Early Head Start staff. This includes salaries of current staff and unfilled vacancies. Programs may consider a permanent uniform percent increase to the Head Start pay scale or differential COLA increases to the pay scale across position types within the program. 


Community Assessment.  A profile of the community or communities in which the Head Start and Early Head Start program operates.


Comprehensive Services.  This term is often associated with a Head Start program as it provides a wide variety of services to children beyond the educational component of preschool.  In a Head Start program this includes health services, social services, nutritional services, services to children with disabilities as well as educational services and a strong emphasis on parent involvement.


Deficiency.  A systemic or substantial material failure of an agency in an area of performance.


Delegate Agency.  An agency to which responsibility is delegated by the Head Start grantee for the operation of a total, or a significant portion, of the Head Start/Early Head Start program. 


Early Head Start (EHS). This program serves pregnant women, infants and toddlers until age 3.

Federally Funded.   A term typically used when referring to a program that receives their operating funds through acts of the Congress.


Federal Register.  The federal publication that informs the public about proposed and final regulations, funding availability, program announcements, and other policies issued by federal agencies.


Grantee.  A public or private agency which receives funds directly from ACF to operate a Head Start program. 


Head Start Monitoring System: The Office of Head Start uses the Head Start Monitoring System to measure the performance and accountability of Head Start programs across the country. OHS assesses grant recipient compliance with the Head Start Program Performance Standards, the Head Start Act, and other regulations. The Head Start Monitoring System gives OHS a multi-year perspective on grant recipient operations with a focus on performance, progress, and compliance. It also provides grant recipients with opportunities for continuous improvement. This system conducts off- and on-site reviews and disseminates its findings through formal monitoring reports.


Head Start Program Performance Standards (HSPPS).  These Federal Head Start regulations establish the regulatory requirements all Head Start and Early Head Start programs have to follow.


Head Start Collaboration Offices (HSCO).  ACF grants are awarded to each state for the purpose of collaborating and forging collaborative Head Start-state relationships to benefit children and their families. 


​Individualized Education Plan (IEP).  An individualized plan for providing services to children with special needs that establishes what support the child needs to make progress towards their goals. IEPs are established by the local education agency.


Individualized Family Services Plan (IFSP). A written plan created to meet the individual needs, concerns, and priorities of individual children, from birth to age 3, and their families. The plan states the family's desired outcomes for their child and themselves and lists the early intervention services and supports that will help meet those outcomes. It also describes when, where, and how the services will be delivered.


​Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). A law that makes available free appropriate public education to eligible children with disabilities throughout the nation and ensures special education and related services to those children.


Information Memorandum (IM).  A document by which the federal government provides grantees with general information other than a proposed regulation or policy.


In-Kind.  A donation of property, supplies, or services which benefit Head Start and which are contributed by non-federal third parties without charge to the program. 


Interagency Agreements.  Agreements signed between agencies at the national, state, or local level to promote additional services to Head Start.  


Local Education Agency (LEA).  A public board of education or other public authority legally constituted within a State for either administrative control or direction of, or to perform a service function for, public elementary schools or secondary schools in a city, county, township, school district, or other political subdivision of a State, or for a combination of school districts or counties as are recognized in a State as an administrative agency for its public elementary schools or secondary schools. Head Start programs work with the LEA to support transition to kindergarten and services for children with disabilities.


National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC).  The National Association for the Education of Young Children is a professional membership organization that works to promote high-quality early learning for all young children, birth through age 8, by connecting early childhood practice, policy, and research. 


New England Head Start Association (NEHSA). A membership-supported organization comprised of Head Start Directors, staff, parents, and friends representing the six New England states (Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont). NEHSA’s mission is to united and support New England Head Start programs as leaders in early education.


National Head Start Association (NHSA).  A membership-supported organization comprised of Head Start Directors, staff, parents, and friends. The National Head Start Association's mission is to coalesce, inspire, and support the Head Start field as a leader in early childhood development and education. NHSA is committed to the belief that every child, regardless of circumstances at birth, has the ability to succeed in life. 


Non-Federal Share. Cash or in-kind resources that benefit Head Start/Early Head Start and are contributed by non-federal sources without charge to the program. Twenty percent of the Head Start grant award must be a non-federal match.


Office of Head Start (OHS). The Office of Head Start (OHS) administers grant funding and oversight to the agencies that provide Head Start services. OHS also provides federal policy direction and a training and technical assistance (T/TA) system to assist grantees in providing comprehensive services to eligible young children and their families.


Policy Council (PC).  A federally mandated policy making body that is elected at the grantee level.  At least 51% of the members must be parents of Head Start children currently enrolled in the grantee Head Start program.  It may also include representatives of the community.


Program Information Report (PIR). A report that is filed by grantees annually that provides comprehensive data on the services, staff, children, and families served by the program.


Program Specialist.  Staff at the Office of Head Start who support programs through monitoring and technical assistance.


Self-Assessment. Programs are required to conduct an annual self-assessment that uses data including aggregated child assessment data, and professional development and parent and family engagement data to evaluate the program’s progress towards meeting goals, compliance with requirements, and to determine the effectiveness of the professional development and family engagement systems in promoting school readiness.


Supplemental Security Income (SSI).  SSI provides payments to people with limited income and resources that are age 65 or older, blind, or have a qualifying disability. Children with a qualifying disability can also get SSI. A family who receives SSI benefits is eligible for the Head Start/Early Head Start program.


Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Helps low-income people and families buy the food they need for good health. Benefits are provided on an electronic card that is used like an ATM card and accepted at most grocery stores. A family who receives SNAP benefits is eligible for the Head Start/Early Head Start program.

Training and Technical Assistance (T/TA).  An event or activity designed to improve or enhance the skills and development of program staff constitutes training.  Technical assistance is a problem-solving event that utilizes the services of an experienced consultant.


Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF).  A federal program that assists families in reaching economic self-sufficiency by providing temporary financial assistance and job training and counseling. A family who receives TANF benefits is eligible for the Head Start/Early Head Start program.


United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).  A state program known as the Child Care Food Program (CACFP) is funded by USDA and provides financial reimbursement and/or commodities for providing breakfast, lunch, and snacks which meet federal nutritional requirements to income eligible children.


Women Infants and Children (WIC).  A federal nutrition program aimed at providing supplemental food vouchers to low income pregnant women and their children.

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