We’re celebrating 40 years of impact! Learn more about our accomplishments over the last four decades. learn more

Regardless of zip code or family income, when welcoming a new baby, all parents and families could benefit from additional encouragement and support. That is why Illinois is working to build the necessary public infrastructure and funding systems to scale Universal Newborn Support Systems (UNSS) that provide free, voluntary short-term home visiting and referral services to every family at the birth of a new baby to make connections to the supportive services and resources they may need and want.

While universal newborn support services are common in other high-income nations, it is still an emerging concept in the U.S. Scaling UNSS in Illinois will require a cohesive messaging to build greater awareness and support for these services and systems, which is why Start Early has created a messaging toolkit to support advocates, systems and program leaders, other family-facing providers, and lawmaker champions in communicating the story of UNSS, including explaining why these services are critically important to the future well-being of Illinois families and children.

We hope that these resources will be helpful to you as you share information about UNSS with your communities, and advocate for greater support for UNSS in our state.

Universal Newborn Support Systems

Messaging Toolkit

Successfully scaling UNSS to additional Illinois communities, and eventually statewide, requires cohesive messaging to build awareness of UNSS interventions, the opportunity and necessity to leverage dedicated funding streams to sustain these systems, and the connection between UNSS expansion and to larger state vision for Illinois children and families.

The resources contained in this toolkit are intended to support advocates, state systems leaders, UNSS program leaders, other family-facing providers, and lawmaker champions in communicating the story of UNSS, including explaining why these services are critically important to the future well-being of Illinois families and children. This toolkit is model-agnostic; it aims to speak generally about UNSS as an approach rather than focusing on particular programs or models, recognizing that individual communities will need flexibility to choose and implement models that fit their particular needs. In building this toolkit, Start Early hopes that the resources can serve as a jumping-off point for various stakeholders to build upon the messages and materials within for outreach with additional audiences.

  • Read–Familiarize yourself with the general framing of UNSS
  • Add–Adapt and make additions that speak to your particular audience or perspective
  • Share–Share these general materials alongside more detailed or nuanced messaging

Informational Videos


Parent Perspectives on UNSS

Team & Collaborators

This report was prepared thanks to many individuals and organizations that generously provided time and expertise, research, consultation and other supports. Special thanks to: Brian Rolling, Vincent Alvarez, Claudia Valencia, Tajae Sutton, Samantha Price, Kali Huber, Claire Lankford, Dr. Shelly Shallat, Dr. Mofesola Modupe, Family Connects International, the Chicago Department of Public Health, EverThrive Illinois, and the Illinois Department of Human Services.

Special thanks to: This toolkit and the messaging materials contained within were prepared with generous support from the Steans Family Foundation.

We are excited to share our annual 2022 Year in Review, which showcases and celebrates accomplishments and growth from the last fiscal year (July 1, 2021 – June 30, 2022).

In 2022, we celebrated our 40th anniversary and continued to expand and refine our services to children and families.

Through our innovative and comprehensive work at local, state and federal levels, Start Early impacted nearly every facet of the early education system with a deliberate focus on reaching more young children through quality early learning and care experiences that can set them up for a lifetime of health and success.

2022 Year in Review

This work would not have been possible without the collaboration and efforts of our partners. We are thankful to all of our supporters over the past 40 years for their help in making this work a reality. We are champions for early learning, and together, we can transform lives.

The workforce shortage gripping the nation is acutely felt in the early childhood field and must be addressed to realize bold, equitable, comprehensive systems reform. One essential strategy to address this workforce crisis is building competitive and more equitable compensation systems.

To support states, Start Early researched equitable compensation strategies in Oregon, Rhode Island, Washington State and the District of Columbia, with a focus on the development and implementation of wage scales. The resulting publication offers lessons and key insights from these systems leading innovative and effective policy and advocacy efforts in pursuit of equitable compensation for the early childhood workforce.

View Report

Key Findings

Five key lessons emerged from Start Early’s policy analysis and interviews with state leaders and advocates. These lessons, though not exhaustive, can inform both the “what” and “how” of states’ pursuit of more equitable compensation for the cross-sector workforce.

  1. Ensure transparency at every major decision-point
  2. Identify a comprehensive framework that supports the current workforce
  3. Consider multiple mechanisms for implementation
  4. Use short-term solutions while building long-term approaches and infrastructure
  5. Employ an inside-outside approach

Start Early Consulting

Start Early Consulting is a deeply experienced, mission-driven team with a long history of driving change within the early childhood field. We help systems evolve with highly customizable support, inviting leaders to leverage our consultants as strategic advisors or to develop and execute implementation plans.

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The 2022 Illinois Policy Accomplishments report details progress we helped the state achieve toward advancing our Illinois Policy Agenda. In some places, Start Early may have led a charge, in other places we contributed research and advocacy to help advance shared goals of many stakeholders. While many challenges remain to be solved in our fragmented early learning system, this year’s report details the many ways that tangible progress is being made to improve the experience of families and children and providers.

2022 Illinois Policy Accomplishments

Download Our Accomplishments Document

Each year the Illinois General Assembly passes legislation that can have an impact on families, or the organizations in our communities providing early childhood or related supportive services to families. Start Early leads on some of these legislative changes, often in coalition with others, and in other cases we contribute our early childhood lens and expertise to support the efforts of another lead organization. The 2022 Legislative Summary provides a listing of those bills that became law in the spring 2022 session that we thought would be relevant to families with young children and the field.  We hope that this is a resource you will download and share with colleagues and families alike. We are happy to provide additional information about any of these initiatives or connect you with other advocates where needed. Initiatives that were led by Start Early are marked *. 

Equitable inclusion for young children with disabilities and developmental delays in early childhood opportunities is supported by both a human rights framework and evidence-based research. Being meaningfully included as a member of society is a human right that all children deserve and should be able to access. Additionally, there is clear research on the benefits of inclusion for both young children with disabilities and their typically developing peers in early childhood programs and services. Despite this, it is well documented that nationally, young children with disabilities and delays and their families continue to face challenges with accessing inclusive early childhood services individualized to their needs in all settings, particularly young children of color.

To address this, the Alliance for IDEA Policy Initiative and other national partners developed these federal policy recommendations to advance equity and inclusion for young children with disabilities and developmental delays across the early childhood system.

Key Recommendations

We identified key recommendations across five areas:

  1. Adequate and Robust Funding
  2. Stable and Diverse Workforce
  3. Governance that Enhances Coordination and Collaboration
  4. Family- and Child-Centered Screening, Eligibility, and Evaluation
  5. Equitable and Inclusive Services

Policy Team & Collaborators

Special thanks to: Thank you to the families, providers, and organizations who gave their time to host and participate in a feedback session to inform the federal policy recommendations as well as completed the survey; our fellow national partners who provided their critical input and time to this effort: Child Care Aware® of America, Community Organizing and Family Issues (COFI) and POWER-PAC IL, Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates, Inc., Division for Early Childhood, Education Commission of the States, Education Trust, First Five Years Fund, Infant and Toddler Coordinators Association, National Association for the Education of Young Children, National Association of Family Child Care, National Association of State Directors of Special Education, National Head Start Association, and Zero to Three; the Alliance for IDEA Policy Initiative national and state partners

The Challenge

Without an established Quality Rating & Improvement System, Mississippi leaders sought a common framework for quality to better ensure positive child outcomes among their diverse early childhood education providers. While researching options, the successful outcomes of Educare Schools caught their eye.

Read Full Case Study

With support from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, four Mississippi trainers with diverse early childhood experience completed The Essential Practices of Educare’s Train-the-Trainer program and launched a unique, state-wide professional learning model. They hoped to:

  • Introduce common quality standards across the state
  • Encourage educators from Head Start, public pre-K, and childcare to learn from each other
  • Increase positive outcomes for the majority of Mississippi’s youngest learners

“We like that The Essential Practices of Educare is detailed, practical, and easily understood… It makes people more curious about the context in which learning is happening.” – Holly Spivey, Head Start Collaboration Director & Education Policy Advisor in the Office of Governor Tate Reeves

The Impact: Engaged Educators Increase Quality and Equity by Cross-pollinating Ideas

The Mississippi training team chose Start Early’s Essential Practices of Educare because it creates space for educators to respond to and get curious about quality. They attribute the early success of their efforts to five guiding principles:

Principle One: Meeting people where they are at is critical to training success.

“What’s unique about The Essential Practices of Educare is that it’s a foundation that a lot of people need. It’s a very relatable PD that gives them opportunities to really talk about what they’re doing and how they can change, or how they can redirect what they’re doing to make it better.” – Amye Hoskins, Mississippi Training Team, Professional Development Specialist, Mississippi Dept of Education, Office of Early Childhood

Principle Two: Equal access to training creates equity among educators.

“Typically childcare doesn’t receive as much PD as the normal public school teacher. So we want to make sure The Essential Practices of Educare is accessible across the state and allows everyone to have the same opportunity.” – Amye Hoskins

“We didn’t originally think about The Essential Practices of Educare as a workforce development equity move, but that’s naturally what’s happening.” – Holly Spivey

Principle Three: Training educators from diverse programs at the same time increases engagement and creates a cross-pollination of best practices across the state.

“We have people from all parts of the state learning from each other as a group. We’ll say, ‘Tell us what’s happening and how do you overcome that challenge,’ so they can listen to people across the state– and then they can take it back to their classroom.” – Tamara Smith, Mississippi Training Team, Professional Development Specialist at Midtown Partners & Childcare Director at Little Samaritan Montessori

Principle Four: A flexible professional development design is essential for localized, authentic conversations about quality.

“I’ve often been surprised with where people take this foundational learning and what they notice. The Essential Practices of Educare has made them more curious about the context in which learning is happening.” – Holly Spivey

Principle Five: When a diverse training team facilitates The Essential Practices of Educare, it increases value and insight for participants.

“As trainers, we are unique – by representing childcare, the Department of Education, and Early Head Start, we relate better with the people on the ground. I understand where you all are coming from and your stress In the classroom …but here are things you can implement that will work.” – Tamara Smith

“Our Start Early practice consultant has been a godsend for us. She’s always willing to assist and give advice; that helped us really understand each other and our vision of what we wanted to accomplish as a training team.” – Amye Hoskins

Looking Ahead

The Mississippi Training Team wants to expand access to The Essential Practices of Educare, reaching as many educators across the state as possible. And they have their sights set on taking their training support to the next level. Soon they hope to create a model that allows them to follow trainings with customized technical assistance to ensure participants feel supported as they apply their learning to daily practice.

Read Full Case Study

Complete this form to read our case study detailing how the training team used The Essential Practices of Educare to create a common understanding of what high-quality education looks like across Mississippi’s early childhood systems.

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By completing this form you will be opted-in to receive email updates from Start Early Professional Development, including news, events and more. You can unsubscribe from these updates at any time.

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More Like This

Amid an unprecedented expansion of early care and education (ECE) programming, many ECE systems and program leaders must piece together multiple funding sources to meet the total cost of delivering high-quality programming. Bringing together, or braiding, these various funding streams requires coordination across different levels of the ECE system and has critical implications for program quality, workforce strength, and equity in access and outcomes for young children and their families. Of particular interest is how Head Start participates in or uses approaches that braid federal funding alongside state and local sources to provide high-quality, comprehensive services.

The Financing for ECE Quality and Access for All (F4EQ) project seeks to better understand the landscape of Head Start’s participation in or use of braided funding by identifying the most common braiding approaches, examining how these approaches can equitably advance the provision of high-quality, comprehensive ECE services, and documenting how participation in braiding funding relates to Head Start’s engagement with other ECE programs and systems efforts. Specifically, the project will include a descriptive study of financing in ECE programs that include Head Start funding with an emphasis on understanding Head Start’s role in state and local systems that will address three primary research questions.

Primary Research Questions

  1. What are common approaches to braided funding that include Head Start and how are they implemented?
  2. What are the federal, state, or local financing policy levers (e.g., requirements, regulations, standards) and enabling conditions (e.g., governance structures, mindsets, the political will to braid ECE funds) that affect Head Start’s ability to engage in braided funding and/or coordination across ECE systems?
  3. How is the use of or participation in different approaches to braided funding related to Head Start’s (a) program implementation and (b) integration within broader ECE systems?

To address these research questions, the project team will:

  • Complete a review of the existing knowledge base.
  • Conduct an environmental scan of ECE financing policy and approaches to braiding funding that include Head Start.
  • Design, field, and analyze surveys of ECE leaders and practitioners who make decisions about and implement braided funding models that include Head Start.
  • Conduct case studies (if elected) to examine the implementation of common braiding models that include Head Start in variable policy contexts and at multiple levels of the ECE system.
  • Consult with technical experts and engage additional groups of constituents for feedback across key project activities.

The resulting insights from this descriptive study will generate beneficial knowledge about Head Start’s use of and participation in braided funding practices within ECE systems, including potential enablers and barriers to braiding. Furthermore, this project will identify promising approaches and inform program strategies and policy levers by which braided funding may support the equitable provision of more accessible, comprehensive Head Start services.

The Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation contracted with NORC at the University of Chicago to complete this work, with partners Start Early and the Children’s Equity Project at Arizona State University.

Research & Evaluation Team & Collaborators

The Challenge

At Child Care Associates in Texas, the central office team noticed that, after a period of gains, its CLASS evaluations of childcare and Head Start/Early Head Start providers had plateaued.

System leaders decided it was time to change how they approached outcomes improvement and they made three important decisions:

  • Shift ownership of CCA’s education vision from the central office to campus instructional leaders.
  • Recommit to using family experience as a critical performance measure.
  • Implement The Essential 0-5 Survey across 25 campuses to provide leaders with a unified framework to move program improvement forward.

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Improving CLASS instructional support scores was important to CCA – but our goal in using The Essential Survey was to focus on how supporting leaders will drive improvement in the classroom.

Karin Scott, Chief Performance Officer, Child Care Associates
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The Impact: Energized Leaders Re-shaping Daily Practice to Improve Outcomes and Equity

Karin Scott, Chief Performance Officer, outlines four key outcomes the CCA team experiences with their annual Essential Survey implementation:

  • Outcome One – Our entire team now uses a common framework to talk about improvement.
    “We transformed campus director meetings to bring people together who are working on common problems of practice – to share out what’s working, lift up people getting better outcomes, and talk about pivots when something doesn’t work.”
  • Outcome Two – We are reducing leader & teacher overwhelm by focusing on where they CAN have impact.
    “It can get overwhelming when you’re dealing with deep root causes to early childhood issues, like a national labor shortage or systemic racism. The Essential Survey toolkit’s root cause analysis allows us to dig down to root causes and build strategies to affect the most change with limited resources.”
  • Outcome Three – Staff at all levels are making proactive, positive changes in daily practice.
    “The Essential Survey got teams into the practice of reviewing data. They’re taking it into their own hands to make easy, accessible processes for people. They’re rethinking how they use their time.”
  • Outcome Four – We have more data to help us drive equity for families of color.
    “There is a huge equity piece to the Essential Survey work. We serve majority families of color and we need to know how they’re feeling about the services they are receiving, as well as how we can improve. This is a great tool to do that.”

We want staff to feel like they are valued and cared for while they’re here – and make sure they keep doing this work because it’s important for our community.

Karin Scott, Chief Performance Officer, Child Care Associates
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Looking Ahead

The Child Care Associates team is committed to implementing The Essential 0-5 Survey annually to sustain a culture that values and supports leaders. “It was important before the pandemic, but now more than ever we need to know how people are feeling,” says Karin Scott. “Our long-term hope is that our staff are supported and feel motivated to do their best work, which in turns leads to better interactions with children and teachers and better outcomes for families.”

Read Full Case Study

Complete this form to read our case study about the Child Care Associates’ rollout of The Essential 0-5 Survey across 25 early childhood campuses.

By providing your state, we are able to share resources and learning opportunities relevant to your location.

By completing this form you will be opted-in to receive email updates from Start Early Professional Development, including news, events and more. You can unsubscribe from these updates at any time.

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Communities across the country are experiencing a dearth of child care options for families with infants and toddlers. Frequently described as a crisis, the availability of high-quality child care for infants and toddlers has only worsened since the COVID-19 pandemic began in spring 2020.

The need for expanded access to quality care for infants and toddlers in Illinois is clear—what is less clear is how to overcome the many challenges to meet this urgent need. The Infant and Toddler Child Care Roadmap project, led by Start Early, explores various ways Illinois can better meet the needs of families with infants and toddlers through the lens of the State’s child care community. The purpose of the project is to examine the current supply, demand and impact of infant-toddler child care on family well-being and the economy. The project is part of Raising Illinois’ Prenatal-to-Three Policy Agenda.

The Infant and Toddler Child Care Roadmap includes a review of recent and relevant literature on infant and toddler child care, a scan of relevant policies and practices in Illinois and other states, and a summary of findings from our engagement with Illinois’s child care field through focus groups and surveys. To better contextualize and interpret the data collected through these activities and to identify subsequent policy recommendations, a series of community conversations were convened around the State to share findings from the literature, state policy scan and surveys and focus groups and to reflect with communities on their implications. Input received from community conversations was integrated into this report, which details the project’s findings and recommendations for increasing access to infant and toddler child care in Illinois.

The following recommendations are reflective of the need for an intentional focus on infants and toddlers and are centered on the professionals who deliver child care services, as our State’s ability to expand infant-toddler child care capacity largely hinges on their ability to do so.

Key Recommendations:

  1. Strengthen the perception and reputation of infant-toddler teachers and other professionals working with children under age 3.
  2. Strengthen the workforce.
  3. Increase engagement with local communities.
  4. Improve the Child Care Assistance Program.
  5. Increase supports for children with disabilities, and early childhood staff and families struggling with mental health and social emotional challenges.
  6. Increase business and operational supports to child care programs.
  7. Improve availability of data on infants and toddlers.

Research & Evaluation Team & Collaborators

Special thanks to: City of Chicago Mayor’s Office & Every Child Ready Chicago Working Group; Illinois Early Childhood Asset Map; SAL Family and Community Services; Children’s Home & Aid Child Care Resource and Referral; Child Care Resource and Referral at John A. Logan College; Southern Illinois Coalition for Children and Families; Christine Brambila; Madison Conkin; Ireta Gasner; Brenda Eastham; Jennifer Kemp Berchtold; Beth Knight; Ann Kremer; Lindsay Maldonado; Marcy Mendenhall; Gail Nourse; Emily Ropars.


This project was made possible by grant number 90TP0057. Its contents are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official view of the United States Department of Health and Human Services,