The Illinois Policy Agenda

Our four-year Illinois policy agenda represents our priorities in the state and encompasses Start Early’s advocacy, administrative policy and systems-building efforts.

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The comprehensive work of Start Early and its Illinois Policy Team is grounded in the fact that the first five years of a child’s life are the most critical for healthy development and long-term well-being. Our vision is for Illinois’ early childhood system to be designed, implemented and sustained to successfully achieve Illinois’ goal of equitably providing a continuum of high-quality early childhood services to children before birth and through age 5. To best support all of our state’s families, services must be culturally, linguistically and ability responsive. 

Our policy agenda for Fiscal Year 2024 – Fiscal Year 2027 is representative of our work at the federal, state and local levels (including the City of Chicago) and is comprised of the following priorities: 

  • Strengthen the infrastructure of Illinois’ core early care and learning system
  • Increase investments in and strengthen the design and implementation of Illinois’ core early care and learning programs
  • Recruit and retain a representative, well-compensated and qualified workforce
  • Improve the health, mental health, economic security and well-being of young children and their families

As outlined in our policy agenda below, we will continue to work broadly across child- and family-serving systems to influence policy change and drive investments that help us reach our goals. We also commit to advance policy change through systems building; legislative, administrative and grassroots advocacy; and consultation and thought leadership.

Strengthen the Infrastructure of Illinois’ Early Care and Learning System

  • Increase state funding for core early childhood programs by at least $1 billion, and ensure additional investments needed for program and system infrastructure supports.
  • Establish a coherent, consolidated early childhood administrative/governance structure centering the experiences of families and providers, especially those families furthest from opportunities and with the most complex circumstances.
  • Improve the mechanisms by which providers receive program funds to provide greater stability and adequacy.
  • Establish a statewide funded early childhood local collaboration system with defined functions connected to aligned, effective regional and state council infrastructure.
  • Increase family, community and field voices in state decision-making (shared governance) by establishing a system of supports with staff to ensure authentic family engagement and full participation of families and providers.
  • Establish and strengthen public-private advisory and other policy making tables by centering family and provider voice and lived experience to improve two-way communication to effectively share and receive information with families across the state.
  • Strengthen the statewide infrastructure for children’s social emotional supports such as I/ECMHC, the pyramid model and other best practices to enhance program quality, support the workforce and reduce expulsions.
  • Establish a system to provide inclusion support to early care and learning programs across all settings.
  • Build a statewide system for Universal Newborn Screening and Support (UNSS) services delivered at the community-level, including identification of public and private funding and ensuring integration of UNSS systems into broader prenatal-to-three health and early learning services.
  • Strengthen early childhood data systems, capacity and the utilization of data in policy/decision making.
  • Improve and /expand early childhood facilities through the provision of technical assistance and financial resources, such as the Early Childhood Construction Grant program.

Increase Investments in and Strengthen the Design and Implementation of Illinois’ Core Early Care and Learning Programs

Priorities for Early Intervention

  • Increase number of children served in the Early Intervention program, with a focus on children under age 1 and children who meet automatic eligibility criteria. 
  • Reduce service delays by modifying and expanding models of service delivery, with a focus on addressing disparities in race and geography as well as for families with complex needs (i.e., those experiencing homelessness or substantiated cases of abuse and neglect).
  • Redesign funding and payment structures to better support the full cost of providing services, to provide for team planning and to eliminate disincentives for serving families due to race, geography or complex needs.
  • Strengthen direct communication with providers and families to increase active engagement in improving the system and their ability to advocate for their children. 

Priorities for the Early Childhood Block Grant (ECBG)

  • Ensure the supply of adequately funded early childhood slots in a range of settings (including full-day, full-year), particularly in areas of highest need, through both expansion of services and strengthening existing funding levels to meet the cost of providing quality programming.
  • Increase equitable distribution of funds and program slots across schools and community-based programs.
  • Increase supply of adequately funded center-based slots for children birth-three. 

Priorities for Child Care Services

  • Improve supply and quality of child care throughout the state, with a focus on infant/toddler slots, inclusion of children with delays or disabilities and equitable access to contracts for all types of providers.
  • Increase number of families and children accessing the Child Care Assistance Program through improvements to the Child Care Assistance Program application process, and expanded eligibility (income and categorical).
  • Strengthen child care licensing system through improvements to the background check system, monitoring process, and improved communication between child care licensing and early childhood educators.

Priorities for Home Visiting & Doula Services

  • Increase cohesion across funders and models of home visiting (and doula services in home visiting programs) by streamlining activities like funding, monitoring, data collection (including disaggregated data).
  • Strengthen home visiting and doula connections to other systems, including Early Intervention, child welfare, primary care and mental health systems.
  • Improve family participation rates in home visiting and doula programs through increased public awareness of the program and supporting the development of new models or promising practices to better meet family and community needs.

Recruit and Retain a Representative, Well-Compensated and Qualified Early Care and Learning Workforce, With a Particular Focus on Those Who Work With Infants and Toddlers

  • Increase recruitment and retention of early childhood professionals.
  • Substantially increase compensation and ensure competitive benefits across the early childhood field.  
  • Improve working conditions for the early childhood workforce, e.g. work hours, ratios and groups sizes, access to professional development wellness supports.
  • Strengthen opportunities for professional development.
  • Increase credential, degree, license, and endorsement attainment for the early childhood field.
  • Expand access to scholarships, financial assistance and other supports for candidates.
  • Develop strategies to target information to likely candidates about credential/degree attainment and financial assistant opportunities, such as CDA for credit opportunity.
  • Implement and expand apprenticeship pilot programs.
  • Align credentials and education requirements across early childhood professions.
  • Strengthen the perception and reputation of the early childhood field.

Improve the Health, Mental Health, Economic Security and Well-Being of Young Children and Their Families

  • Strengthen the alignment and integration of the health and early care and learning systems.
  • Inform and support policies and initiatives that promote safe and healthy early care and learning environments.
  • Increase access to culturally- and linguistically-responsive health care for families with young children and pregnant people, including preventive and specialty care, mental health and substance use recovery care.
  • Improve access to public and private health insurance for families with young children and pregnant people.
  • Increase economic supports for families with young children, including paid family and medical leave, access to public benefits and tax credits. 
  • Increase food security for families with young children, with a focus on improved access to SNAP and WIC programs including increased access to local healthy food options.
  • Inform and support policies and initiatives that promote safe and healthy neighborhoods, housing and environments and positive social and community supports.
The Illinois Policy Agenda

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