Two young children playing at day care

Introducing a Collective Effort to Close the Opportunity Gap in Illinois

Simone Santiago, director of the Prenatal to Three Coalition, provides background on the Coalition and the latest on its mission, vision and objectives.

Simone Santiago March 2, 2021
  • Equity
  • Policy and Systems
  • Blog

The science is clear: the first three years of life are the most critical for development. However, it is in these earliest years where we shortchange our children the most. We know that we have a lack of programs and services across the country for infants, toddlers and their families – and those that we do have are extremely underfunded. In order to address these disparities and ensure a bright future for youngest children, bold and collective action is needed.

Last year, in Illinois, a broad group of 100+ diverse stakeholders convened to develop an ambitious, comprehensive, multi-year and strategic policy agenda that spells out exactly what Illinois families need to have the strongest foundation in their first years of life. Through the agenda’s execution, 100,000 more expecting families, infants and toddlers will receive services and supports they need by 2025. In developing recommended policy priorities, we examined data, applied a racial equity lens and focused on Illinois’ priority populations.

We have since kicked off our work to implement our Illinois Prenatal to Three (PN3) Policy Agenda through the Prenatal to Three Coalition, as part of a national movement of 19 states funded by Pritzker Children’s Initiative to move prenatal to age 3-focused efforts and policies forward. Start Early, together with the Illinois Governor’s Office of Early Childhood Development, will lead the Coalition as a public – private partnership.

While our agenda is comprehensive, its structure is clear and simple with four interconnected priorities:

  1. Healthy parents and babies, so that each expecting family and family with infants and toddlers has access to the critical services they need.
  2. High-quality learning, so families have access to the types of care and education they need during the earliest, most foundational years of their development.
  3. Economically secure families that have access to basic income supports necessary to provide essential needs and do not have to sacrifice a job to care for children.
  4. Strong infrastructure with an equitable, cohesive system of supports for families, providers and communities.

At the time of the agenda’s development, we had no idea that the last year would bring such radical changes. In this unprecedented landscape, many of us have seen, in increasingly stark terms, the growing number of families who face frightening financial hardship and have uncertain access to health services that could not be more critical.

If we truly want to end the racial inequities that persist today, we must start at the beginning and ensure that expecting families and babies have what they need for a strong foundation. Together, we are addressing the root causes of disparities and working to create an equitable and cohesive early childhood development system of supports for Illinois’ expecting families, infants and toddlers and the communities in which they live.

The support of individuals and/or organizations is critical to delivering on the Illinois Prenatal to Three Agenda. To join this collective effort, please complete our Interest Form or reach out to our team at

About the Author

Simone Santiago

Simone Santiago

Director of the Prenatal to Three Coalition

For more than a decade, Simone Santiago has held leadership positions in the education space. At Start Early, Simone leads organizational efforts of the Prenatal to Three Coalition.

More About Simone