At Children’s Home & Aid, we offer the full breadth of high-quality state- and federally-funded early childhood programs – from home visiting, Early Head Start, and the Prevention Initiative program to the Child Care Assistance Program, Head Start, and Preschool for All. That’s why we were grateful for the opportunity to appear before the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) to deliver testimony on the importance of early child care and education. Specifically, we asked ISBE for an additional $50 million to support the Early Childhood Block Grant, which provides funding to many of the early childhood and home visiting programs we offer.
As for why this funding is critical, I would like to tell you a story about one of our clients: She had been struggling with mental health issues and was referred to Stronger Beginnings for Families, our Prevention Initiative program serving the Greater East St. Louis community. Prior to beginning services, she was admitted into a treatment facility and eventually became involved with Intact Family Services. Our home visitor worked closely with her and the Intact Family Services program over the past year to not only provide home visiting services for her family, but to also connect her with additional community resources. Our home visitor has built a strong relationship with this client and continues to go above and beyond to ensure her family receives as many supports as possible.
This story is a great example of how home visiting can provide the relationship that leads to a family engaging in services that can help the well-being and growth of the children and the family. With these services, and the connection to an extended group of professionals to support the child and parent, a young child is better set up to learn and enter kindergarten ready to succeed.
With clients like her in mind, we offered several suggestions on how ISBE can use the additional funding to better serve students and families in Illinois. First, we must provide greater mental health supports to children and families, particularly those attending PFA programs. Currently, the budget doesn’t cover to provide the additional mental health supports the families we serve need, and which we can provide in our other early childhood programming, like Head Start. Those extra supports are necessary, especially in communities that are disproportionately experiencing negative outcomes.
Second, we must improve data collection to better understand how ISBE early childhood block grant programs are serving priority populations. In the current ISBE data system, there is no way to track child welfare involved families, despite it being one of three priority populations identified by the state for early childhood services. Data must be disaggregated to appropriately display what priority populations are being served through ISBE early childhood programs and what type of enhanced supports are needed through any additional funding.
Finally, ISBE must provide greater flexibility to its grantees regarding administrative costs. Private donations, often hundreds of thousands of dollars, are used to fund basic program operations, not to enhance the services our families receive. We strongly urged ISBE to make reforms to truly help programs recover administrative costs.
You can read our full testimony to the board here. To learn more about our early education advocacy efforts, contact Ali Schoon, Early Childhood & Child Welfare Policy Associate, at firstname.lastname@example.org.