Head Start Eligibility & How to Apply

Head Start and Early Head Start are federally-funded, free programs designed to improve the school readiness of infants, toddlers and preschool-aged children from low income families. Services are provided in a variety of settings including centers, family child care and a child's own home. 

A mom holding her infant child looks down at her son who is looking back up at her. They are standing in front of a grey brick building.

Head Start (HS) programs also engage parents or other key family members in positive relationships, with a focus on family wellbeing. Parents participate in leadership roles, including having a say in program operations.

These programs support children's growth in a positive learning environment through a variety of services, which include early learning and development, health and family well-being. 

They are available at no cost to children ages birth to 5 from low-income families. Programs may provide transportation to the centers so enrolled children can participate regularly. Families and children experiencing homelessness and children in the foster care system are also eligible. Additionally, Head Start services are available to children with disabilities and other special needs. 

Head Start includes several different program types reflecting the needs of specific populations within the community. These include:

  • Head Start - promoting school readiness for children ages three to five
  • Early Head Start - available to the family until the child turns three years old and is ready to transition into Head Start or another pre-K program. Services to pregnant mothers and families, including prenatal support and follow-up, are also provided by Early Head Start. 
Head Start Logo

Are you eligible?

Head Start programs enroll children whose family income is at or below the poverty level, according to the Poverty Guidelines published by the federal government. Children in foster care, children experiencing homelessness and children from families receiving public assistance, such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families or Supplemental Security Income, are eligible regardless of income.

How do I apply? 

While DHS is home to the RI Head Start Collaboration Office, the Department does not determine the eligibility for Head Start nor does it facilitate the application process. Contact the Early Head Start or Head Start program that serves your community to apply for enrollment. 

How do I find the nearest Head Start or Early Head Start program? 

Use the Head Start Locator to find a program near you. If you need more help, call this toll-free phone number (1-866-763-6481) Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. ET or use the Contact Us form.

Your local Head Start program can help you understand the requirements for enrolling your child. They will answer your questions, provide required forms and tell you what documents you need to apply. Due to limited government funding, there aren't enough spaces for all eligible children. If there isn't a space for your child at this time, ask the program to put your family on the waitlist.