The Policy Council is a group of Head Start (HS) and Early Head Start (EHS) parents and community members who help lead and make decisions about the program. Policy Council members are elected by the parents of children enrolled in the program each year. The Strong Start OC Policy Council is comprised of parents of currently enrolled children, as well as former HS and EHS parents and community representatives who make up an important component of the shared governance system. The Policy Council has an essential relationship with the center Parent Committees in that Policy Council representatives are responsible for keeping other parents well informed by taking information back to their centers to share at their monthly Parent Committee meetings. During the Policy Council term, which is one year, members participate in monthly educational sessions and receive crucial information that empowers them to make imperative decisions affecting the program design and all services provided. The Policy Council also participate in joint Board and Policy Council advisory committees, during which they have the opportunity to review, converse and provide recommendations on service area plans, policies, and procedures for carrying out the program and fiscal operations.
Through the Policy Council, parents have a voice in decisions about how the program spends money, what children do in their classrooms, and how the program works with community partners. Children, parents, and the program benefit when parents take on leadership roles. Children learn more and experience healthier development at school and at home. Parents become more confident, gain skills, and connect with other parents and staff while on the Policy Council while program staff learns more about the strengths, interests, and needs of the children, families, and communities they serve.
The idea of having a group of parents and community members that share the decision-making of an organization and make recommendations to a Board of Directors is unique to HS/EHS programs. When Head Start started in 1965, its founders understood that parents are essential partners in educating young children. They felt parents should decide how Head Start services can most benefit their families and other families in the community. Head Start created the Policy Council to provide a formal leadership and policy-making role for the parents. Today, every HS and EHS program is required to have a Policy Council as part of its leadership structure.