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Progress on the Road to Improving Access to Quality Infant and Toddler Child Care in Illinois

In a new blog, Policy Analyst Gabriela Manzanares Jule explores improvements made by the state to ensure greater access to infant & toddler care, although more work remains.

July 11, 2024
  • Policy and Systems
  • Blog

Infant and toddler child care is one of the most critical resources for families with young children. It is imperative that our state’s youngest learners have access to highquality child care to ensure the healthy development of children.  

However, for many families in Illinois, infant-toddler care is unavailable, and even when it is available, it’s often unaffordable. There are currently enough spots in Illinois’ early care and education system for only one in five infants and toddlers in our state. Of those spots, costs can reach a staggering $16,373 per year—over a third more expensive than preschool and even 6.6% higher than in-state tuition at Illinois’ public universities.

Over the last several years, the Illinois Department of Human Services has committed to making changes to promote the accessibility of infant and toddler care. We commend the Department for taking these important steps towards improving infant-toddler care for children and families:

  • As of July 1st of this year, the Department will cover the cost of the child care registration fee for families enrolled in the Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP). This will relieve families of the initial cost of enrollment and make child care subsidies more accessible  
  • The new Smart Start Workforce Grants provide increased funding for infant and toddler classrooms to account for the additional staffing requirements. 
  • The Department has made a recent policy change to decouple Child Care Assistance Program rates from private pay rates. This policy change was a recommendation included in the 2022 Infant and Toddler Child Care Road Map. When CCAP rates are increased in order enhance the quality of child care, some providers are forced to raise the rates for private pay families to match the new CCAP rate. Unfortunately, these practices can push out families who can’t afford the increase to private pay rates, but who are not eligible for CCAP. This policy change will provide financial relief for families who may not qualify for CCAP but need to access quality child care programs. 

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We celebrate the Department for making these key advancements towards increasing the supply and quality of infant and toddler child care, however, more work remains to be done.

We recommend that the state invest in grants and contracts to stabilize and expand the supply of infant and toddler child care across the state, a strategy also supported by the latest federal rule. Strategic investment in contracts and grants has been found to support stable enrollment for infants and toddlers as well as the hiring and retention of qualified staff.  Only six other states use this strategy to stabilize the supply of subsidized care, however, states that utilize contracts report that the reimbursement rates are closer to the cost of providing care, and therefore allows providers to invest in quality improvements. Grants and contracts will not only stabilize the supply of infant and toddler care, but can also help providers access the resources they need to increase the quality of their child care programs.

To make Illinois the best state to raise a family we must ensure that all families have access to quality and affordable child care.  

Interested in learning more about the Infant and Toddler Child Care Roadmap? Watch Raising Illinois’ statewide gathering, Child Care: Correcting Perception by Acknowledging Impact.

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