OCHAP Model of Service

What is a Headstart Program?

Headstart programs are early intervention Childcare programs that provide comprehensive early childhood education, health, nutrition, parent involvement and support services to multi-risk children and their families. Headstart programs support school readiness by placing a particular emphasis on the development of social emotional skills, fostering healthy attachment, and supporting family and child mental health. Headstart programs provide multi-generational programming targeting both the child and the family. The programs’ services and resources are designed to enhance children’s physical and emotional well-being, establish an environment to develop strong cognitive skills and promote school-readiness, as well as provide direct services or referrals to families in need.

Headstart programs in Ottawa offer services to children 15mo-5yrs. through full or half day programs.   They are governed by the highest care standards under the Child Care and Early Years Act, and are aligned with ‘How Does Learning Happen?’. Headstart programs are licensed under the Ontario Ministry of Education. Headstart programs actively seek feedback from the families we served for continuous improvement. We value life-long learning and provide on-going opportunities for professional development.


How are we different?

The value proposition of Headstart is based on: Specialization, Experience, Integration and Bridging. We have worked collaboratively as a network (Ottawa Carleton Headstart Association for Preschools, OCHAP) for the past 28 years and are well integrated within the neighborhoods we serve as well as the broader childcare and early years sector. We serve on a variety of networks and working groups moving forward initiatives that benefit families with young children. Headstart programs since as early as 1968 have provided multi-generational programming (children, parents and legal guardians) to families with multiple risk factors that require multisystem, complex interventions to help children during their early years and produce better life outcomes, including increased school readiness. Headstarts operating as part of a larger organization such as local Community Health Centres are in a position to offer integrated and seamless access to a variety of health and social services to the families attending the program; others work in partnership with similar organizations to ensure holistic and seamless referrals and support. The Hincks-Dellcrest Centre in Toronto estimates that for every dollar spent in early intervention and prevention in early childhood, seven dollars are saved in future health and social service costs.   (http://www.hincksdellcrest.org/Home/Services-to-Infants-Youth-and-Children/Prevention-and-Early-Intervention.aspx)


Comprehensive, integrated services for multi-risk families:


Who do we serve?

All Headstart programs in Ottawa service socio-economically vulnerable communities as identified in the Early Development Instrument Cycle 4 and the Ottawa Neighbourhood Study. Almost 100% of our families live below the poverty line, and qualify for Headstart childcare subsidy through the City of Ottawa. A significant percentage of our families have involvement from the Children’s Aid Society and the majority of children we serve have delays in one or more developmental areas, whether diagnosed or undiagnosed at time of entry into the program. Families experiencing CAS involvement and/or homelessness are given priority access to spaces.

Multi-risk families participating in mainstream services are often labeled as uncooperative and resistant to receiving service. Unable to meet program and service providers’ expectations, they drop out of the program and fail to benefit from mainstream early intervention programs. Others just never even begin programs.

Characteristics and Attitudinal Barriers Interventions Provided by Headstart


·        Lack of ability to get to services and follow through with scheduled appointments

·        Chaotic functioning that prevents   engagement in consistent and predictable ways

·        Illiteracy and language barriers

·        Fear or negative attitude towards perceived authority figures (Educators, CAS)

·        Reluctance to involve professionals in the family

·        Seeking help is a sign of weakness

·        Not perceiving the services offered as being relevant to their needs


·        Transportation

·        Case management (intensive support and warm referrals to navigate social service systems including Child Care Subsidy)

·        Built-in speech and language and mental health services (assessments, service plans and therapy referrals)

·        Built-in developmental assessments

·        Regular dental screenings

·        Close partnerships with CAS, OCTC/CHEO, Crossroads Children’s Mental Health Centre and Children’s Inclusion Support Services (working collaboratively with families for service planning and delivery)

·        Parent education on site and home visits

·        Nutritious snacks and meals which often is the child’s nutritional intake for the day

·        Mandated parenting groups

·        Bridging to Kindergarten

What is our philosophy?

Working with the child: fostering healthy attachment

Over the last decade, neuroscience research has evidenced the impact of chronic stress and trauma on the developing brain, on infant and early childhood mental health, social and emotional skill development, and ultimately on school readiness. Consequently, Headstart programs’ primary focus is to promote school readiness by enhancing the social and cognitive development of children and fostering healthy, secure attachment. Feelings of attachment influence social development, self-concept, and self-regulation, which are the foundation of school-readiness.

Working with the family: promoting family engagement

Headstart families sometimes struggle to meet their basic needs and require services, resource awareness (warm referrals) and support to help their child (ren) thrive and grow. Headstart families are continuously provided with opportunities and support for growth and change through services specifically focused on child development, mental health promotion, speech and language, positive parenting, child and family literacy, food security and nutrition.

What are the benefits and services provided to our clients?

To the child:
  • An environment that promotes positive and supportive relationships, fosters healthy attachment and builds resiliency
  • A quality educational program that aligns with the How Does learning Happen? framework to promote school readiness
  • Developmental screenings (Nippissing) and referrals
  • Nutrition (NutriStep) and dental screenings and referrals
  • An environment that promotes language development,
  • physical activities and social skills development
  • Nutritious menus reviewed by a registered dietician
  • On-site speech and language and social -emotional assessments,
  • referrals and support through First Words- CHEO and Crossroads
  • Coordinated child-centered interventions with First Words,
  • Children Integration Support Services (CISS), CHEO and/or Children’s Aid Society (CAS), as relevant
  • Transportation to and from the program
  • Special needs support and service coordination through Children Integration Support Services
To the families:
  • A sense of belonging
  • An opportunity to be actively engaged in their child’s development
  • Intake process that aligns services, community resource information and referrals with individual family needs
  • Support for families to advocate for themselves and for their child in the school system
  • Parenting workshops (i.e. Kids Have Stress Too ; Mini-Mind Masters ; Transition to School)
  • An active pursuit model of family support
  • Case management as required (service coordination)
  • Crossroads Children’s Mental Health Support – Pilot stage