Mom holding baby

Infant & Toddler Child Care Roadmap

An exploration of ways Illinois can better meet the needs of families through the lens of the state’s child care community

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,