This blog post was developed in partnership with Senator Mike Simmons, Illinois State Senator, 7th District.
For over 30 years, Start Early has been working to make Illinois the best state in the country to raise young children. Our advocacy strategy has included ensuring that families have access to the high-quality early learning services that we know support healthy brain development, parent child-relationships and that prepare young people for school and life. However, we also know that healthy children grow and thrive in economically secure families.
In Illinois, we have made tremendous progress in addressing the economic insecurity faced by families. However, more must be done. Before the pandemic, estimates showed that almost 20% of children under 5 were living in a family experiencing poverty. When we disaggregate this data by race, we see 38% of Black and 23% of Latinx children aged 0-5 live in families experiencing poverty. It is not a stretch of our imagination to conclude that these numbers are likely higher given the disproportionate impact the pandemic and subsequent economic fallout have had on families of color. As well as the “chilling effect” that the previous presidential administration had on undocumented families.
It will take a focused, sustained, and bold policy agenda to adequately address the needs of families with young children. Here are some things we can urge our policymakers to do:
- Increase access to poverty mitigating supports such as Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, and Children’s Health Insurance Program.
- Implement family-friendly work policies that allow families to remain employed and provide necessary care for their loved ones, including comprehensive paid family and medical leave policies and increased access to affordable childcare.
- Provide more opportunities for direct cash assistance, such as expanding access to the state’s Earned Income Credit, leveraging cash Assistance through Temporary Assistance for Needy Families dollars, and a permanent, statewide child tax credit.
The research is consistent. Children experiencing poverty are more likely to live in disinvested neighborhoods, attend schools that have been chronically underinvested, experience adverse health outcomes, and become involved in the child welfare and criminal justice systems. COVID-19 has accelerated the urgency and given us the opportunity to recommit to the economic well-being of families. Our time is now!
This blog post is a component of Illinois Childhood Advocacy Week, a week of full of opportunities for providers, parents and caregivers to share with their legislators that early education is essential—now more than ever as we rebuild and recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. Learn more.