Providing a Head Start: Improving Access to Early Childhood Education for Refugees

Year Published: 2017

The current research on the benefits of high-quality early childhood education and care (ECEC) leaves little doubt that early interventions have both short- and long-term advantages. These advantages are particularly critical for children with certain risk factors, such as those who belong to low-income families and have parents with limited English proficiency (LEP) and/or low educational attainment. Forced to flee their homelands, frequently in the midst of violence, many refugees spend years in refugee camps under extremely harsh conditions, with little opportunity for educational or occupational development. Very few have the opportunity to resettle in the United States and, when they do, refugees typically arrive with few resources. For those groups at highest risk, access to ECEC programs can be particularly critical to their children’s successful adjustment and future opportunities.

This report describes a mixed-methods research project exploring collaboration between Head Start and refugee resettlement services as a strategy to increase the enrollment of newly arrived refugees’ children in Early Head Start and Head Start (EHS/HS) programs. The authors conducted quantitative and qualitative research in two sites where refugee resettlement and Head Start programs were working together: Syracuse, NY, and Phoenix, AZ. Together, the qualitative and quantitative results demonstrate that increased refugee participation in Head Start is possible through collaboration between EHS/HS programs and refugee resettlement agencies.


Migration Policy Institute. (2016) Providing a Head Start: Improving Access to Early Childhood Education for Refugees. Washington, DC: Lyn Morland, Nicole Ives, Clea McNeely, and Chenoa Allen.