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Raising Young Children To the Top of the Policy Agenda: Lessons From Illinois

An overview of Illinois’ work from the 1980s to the early 2000s to raise young children to the top of its policy agenda.

This account of Illinois’ work from the 1980s to the early 2000s to raise young children to the top of its policy agenda offers insight to other states as they continue to push for public policies that respond to accumulated research findings about the importance of the early years. This publication shares what policymakers, advocates, and funders in other states might learn from Illinois’ approach and a breakdown of which strategies hinged on conditions unique to the state, and which hold promise for success elsewhere.

Key Findings

Lessons learned from Illinois’ decades of early childhood advocacy include:

  • Build from core beliefs, not blueprints. The key advocacy organizations that contributed to advances in early childhood policies and programs have shifted focus on strategies, constituencies, and policies, but they have never lost sight of the core beliefs and commitments that unite them.
  • Build leadership. The Illinois story was made possible by bold moves and behind-the-scenes leadership by elected officials, community leaders, advocates, and philanthropists.
  • Focus on building inclusive, diverse relationships with a variety of early childhood stakeholders, including communities, elected officials, agency staff, early childhood professionals, and the media.
  • Take a marathon approach. Illinois early childhood advocates made a commitment to work with others toward shaping and implementing, over years and even decades, policies and programs aligned with their core commitments. They have taken a marathon approach to early childhood policy, recognizing the incremental nature of progress and the sustained support required to achieve it.

Policy Team & Collaborators