Head Start Social Services: Experiences, Perceptions, And Benefits From the Perspective of Head Start Mothers
Project Head Start, a federal child development program for low-income families,serves both the mother and her children. Previous studies have emphasized Head Start's influence on the child in terms of cognitive gains, social development, and social-emotional development. A continuing problem to understanding the extent of Head Start impact on families is the absence of reliable information about Head Start's influence on the mother and how that influence transfers to the family as they work toward self-sufficiency. This study investigated two issues: (1) the experiences, perceptions, and levels of involvement of mothers who participate in Head Start social services, and (2) how these mothers describe their benefits and relate these benefits to family experiences such as increased problem-solving, coping, and parenting skills. A multiple case study methodology was selected because of its flexibility to allow the researcher to follow new leads that emerged. Participants met three criteria: (1) enrollment in a Head Start social services program for at least six months, (2) willingness to sign an informed consent form and participate in three 90-minute interviews, and (3) having at least one child currently enrolled in Head Start. A participant pool of 17 African American mothers was constituted from parents enrolled in one of three Head Start programs in the Washington, D.C. area, and a sample of eight mothers was then selected for in-depth study. Each mother was interviewed three times, and data were drawn from these interviews. The findings of this study suggest that participation in Head Start social services may have important benefits for mothers and their children. Mothers had developed increased coping and problem-solving skills as well as increased leadership and organizational skills. The findings also suggest that participation in parent group meetings had an empowering influence that prompted several mothers to become involved in certain community activities and in their children's education.