A new report from the Center for American Progress (CAP) shows just how critical the Head Start program is for families in rural America. “A Compass for Families: Head Start in Rural America,” explores the role that Head Start plays in rural communities, both as an early education program and as a service provider in underserved rural areas.

Over the past 50+ years, Head Start has served over 30 million low-income children and families in communities across the country. And while Head Start serves nearly every county in America, the need far outweighs the capacity. Without Head Start, many families in rural counties would not be able to enroll their child in a high-quality, center-based child care program, or access important health services. Rural Head Start programs help fill a crucial role in delivering educational, health, and parent education services to families with few other options for assistance.

Key findings from the report include:

  • 1 out of every 3 rural child care centers is a Head Start program, within a 10-state sample. In these 10 states, there are 48 rural counties that would have no child care centers if not for Head Start.
  • Head Start operates programs in 86 percent of America’s 1,760 rural counties.
  • Rural Head Start enrolled more than 175,000 children; employed nearly 50,000 staff and delivered family services to more than 110,000 families in the 2015-2016 program year.
  • Despite higher poverty rates, fewer resources and unique challenges, rural Head Start programs connect children and families with critical services at rates similar to those of Head Start programs in metropolitan areas.

Head Start plays a critical role in mitigating the effects of poverty for children and families – particularly in rural areas. Learn more about the findings included in CAP’s report here.