Health

Health is the foundation of school readiness. To help children thrive, Head Start staff ensure that children are up to date on immunizations and their state’s Early and Periodic Screening, Diagnosis, and Treatment (EPSDT) schedule, learn healthy habits, and can access the care they need. Head Start also promotes the physical and social and emotional well-being of families and staff.

You may hear your child’s teacher, home visitor or family advocate talk about having a “medical home.” This is your child’s primary medical provider.  A medical home provides prevention services, coordinates needed services, and helps families learn the best way to help their child grow up healthy. 

Below is some information on commons topics of discussion regarding the health of your child/family.

Well Child Exams

These are also called “well baby checks” or “physicals.”  These are exams your child receives from their primary medical provider when they are WELL, not sick.  The focus of the exam is to make sure they are developing on track, that they don’t have any physical concerns such as hearing or vision issues, speech delays, and more.  It is difficult to tell if a child has a hearing problem if they are there for an ear infection, or a speech concern if they are there for strep throat. 

MN Head Start programs will work with you, as parents, to make sure your child stays on track with the schedule of exams set up by the MN Department of Health.

Would you like some help keeping track of your child’s well visits?  Click here.

Immunizations

Vaccines, also called immunizations, are a safe and effective way to protect children from many common diseases. Immunity is the body’s way of preventing disease.  When a baby is born, their immune system is not fully developed, which can put them at great risk for infections.  Vaccines reduce their risk of infection by working with their body’s natural defenses to help safely develop immunity to disease. 

Babies are born with immune systems that can fight most germs, but there are some deadly diseases they can’t handle.  That’s why they need vaccines to strengthen their immune systems.  Vaccines use very small amounts of antigens to help your child’s immune system recognize and learn to fight serious diseases.  Antigens are the parts of germs that cause the body’s immune system to go to work, fighting the disease.

The CDC has some more detailed information about vaccines/immunizations. 

If parents delay or avoid child vaccinations, they can put their child – and others – at risk for potentially dangerous diseases.  If you should choose that your family does not want to immunize your child, your Head Start program will require you to complete the state’s exemption from immunizations form that can be found here.  This will also need to be provided to your child’s school when they go on to Kindergarten.  This form needs to be notorized.

Nutrition

Good eating habits begin early in your child’s life. As early as infancy, you can help your child grow lifelong healthy eating habits. You are your child’s best role model so while you help her to eat healthy, try to do the same too!  Click here for a TIP SHEET from the Office of Head Start. 

Programs will work with families to promote healthy eating in a variety of ways:

  • Use of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to help stretch your food budget, allowing you to purchase healthy food and move toward self-sufficiency
    • Use of Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) to provide supplemental foods, health care referrals, and nutrition education for low-income pregnant, breastfeeding, and non-breastfeeding postpartum women, and to infants and children up to age five who are found to be at nutritional risk.  Many families that are eligible for Head Start are also eligible for WIC services.
    • Use of your local Food Shelves to stretch your food budget.
    • Providing healthy meals, snacks, and safe drinking water during program time, in classrooms and at family events/socializations.

Oral Health

Some parents may find it odd that we are promoting, even our Early Head Start children, to get in to see their dental provider – even more expecting them to have a dental provider at age 1.  Tooth decay is the most common childhood disease, but it’s preventable. Children with dental pain can have trouble speaking clearly, eating, and learning.

Did you know that three out of every 10 children ages 2 to 5 have had tooth decay?  Almost seven out of every 10 children with tooth decay or another oral health problem have missed school because of that problem. 

Head Start promotes oral health from birth.  Oral health is an important part of a child’s overall health and well-being. Children with good oral health tend to eat well, sleep well, and develop as they should. A child’s oral health also makes a big difference in their ability to learn. Children with tooth pain often have a hard time finishing tasks or activities in the classroom. They may act out, be withdrawn, or seem tired or depressed.

Children in Early Head Start are expected to have their mouth & teeth examined at the first eruption of a tooth, and have an annual check up of their teeth.

Programs promote oral health through regular tooth brushing in classrooms and on home visits.  Good oral health can be maintained through health eating and drinking habits, as well. 

Throughout the state, receiving dental care for Head Start families can be very difficult.  In Greater Minnesota, there are not enough dental providers to meet the community need, but even fewer that accept Medical Assistance or MN Care as forms of insurance.  Many Head Start programs work with MHSA in the Collaborative Dental Hygienist Project to identify local hygienists that can provide dental screenings and preventive dental care for children. 

For more resources on oral health visit the Office of Head Start’s webpage dedicated to the topic. 

Screenings     

Programs are required to complete a series of screening tools with every child.  These are designed to identify any areas of concern, give programs an opportunity to make referrals for additional intervention services, as well as identify areas of strength as they get to know every enrolled child.  Screening gives a picture of whether the child’s development is on track in a variety of areas.  The goal is to ensure that your child has no obstacles to becoming ready for school. 

Developmental Screening.  A tool to determine if your child is meeting each physical development milestone.

SocialEmotional Screening.  A tool to determine if your child is meeting each milestone in their social or emotional development, such as regulation of emotion, getting along with others, any behavioral concerns, and much more.

Hearing Screening.  Each child’s hearing is checked using a piece of equipment, such as an audiometer or an OAE (Otoacoustic Emissions) tool.  This will determine if there are any hearing concerns that should be addressed by your primary medical provider.

Vision Screening.  Each child’s vision is checked using an approved tool.  This will determine if there are any visual concerns that should be addressed by your primary medical provider or an optometrist.

Lead Screening.  Lead is a toxin to people.  Exposure to lead interferes with children’s growth.  Minnesota requires 1 or 2 screenings depending upon your child’s age.  This screening can be done at your doctor’s office, sometimes at your Head Start program or at a WIC visit.

Sleep – why is it so important?

Sleep is important to how your child learns, grows, and even behaves. Children who get enough sleep regularly do better in school and have fewer behavior issues. Discover how a regular bedtime routine can help your child get enough sleep. It can also make bedtime easier for you!  Check out more information from the Office of Head Start.

Screen Time

Screens – computers, tablets, cell phones – are everywhere.  Many children are fascinated by what they can do with these tools…or toys…entertainment devices?  There is a great deal of information available on the concerns regarding children and screen time.  Check out these resources for more information:

            Mayo Clinic

            We Start Now

            Common Sense Media