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Illinois Kids Count 2013: Significant Progress for Children and Families, but Troubling Setbacks Threaten State’s Future

FEB. 14, 2013, CHICAGO — Illinois has made significant strides in improving the lives of children and families over the past 25 years. But that progress is now at risk, jeopardizing the health, safety, and well-being of our children and threatening efforts to build a more prosperous future for the state as a whole, according to a report released today by Voices for Illinois Children.


Nancy Castagnet
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The Illinois Kids Count 2013 report — “Moving Policy, Making Progress” — focuses on  achievements and challenges in early childhood education, health care coverage, access to child care services, and seven other featured policy areas. Unfortunately, over the past several years, the Great Recession and the state fiscal crisis have stalled progress, eroded gains, or undermined achievements in many of these areas.

“Illinois can be proud of the progress we’ve made to invest in kids so they’re healthy as babies, successful as students, and well prepared for productive and fulfilling lives as adults,” said Gaylord Gieseke, president, Voices for Illinois Children. “But now we’re at a crossroads, and we have difficult choices to make. We challenge Illinois to do the right thing and the smart thing: build on our past achievements, tackle the issues facing children and families today, and position us for the future.”

Key Achievements, Troubling Setbacks

  • Early childhood education:  Illinois has been a nationwide leader in expanding access to early learning opportunities. Between FY 1998 and FY 2009, participation in state-funded preschool programs doubled. In the last four years, however, deep budget cuts have resulted in an estimated 20,000 fewer children attending state-supported preschool. Extensive research has demonstrated the short-term and long-term educational and economic benefits of investing in high-quality preschool, and studies in Illinois have shown significant improvements in school-readiness skills among children participating in state-funded preschool programs.
  • Health care coverage:  Over the past several decades, there has been a “quiet revolution” in health care coverage for Illinois children. About 1.7 million children are now enrolled in Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and All Kids expansion. In 2011, the uninsured rate for children in Illinois was only 3.7 percent — the lowest in the Midwest and fifth lowest among the 50 states. The “Medicaid stabilization plan” enacted last year includes some provisions that could jeopardize access to services and quality of care for Illinois children, particularly those with special health care needs. A substantial body of research indicates the effectiveness of Medicaid and CHIP in expanding access to health care services, improving health outcomes for children, and enhancing economic security for low-income families.  
  • Child care services:  The Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP) provides low-income working families with access to affordable child care services. CCAP serves about 170,000 children each month. Unfortunately, the state budget crisis has stalled progress. Eligibility for CCAP has been made more restrictive, and required family co-payments were increased substantially in both 2011 and 2012. For a single-parent family with two children at 150 percent of poverty level, co-payments rose from $85 to $180 per month. Providing access to affordable, stable, and high-quality child care is important for both the economic security of families and the healthy development of their children.

Other key policy achievements highlighted in Illinois Kids Count 2013 include reforms in the state’s child welfare system, a strategic plan to improve children’s mental health services, home visiting programs for at-risk families with infants and toddlers, and the state Earned Income Tax Credit for low-income working families.

There has been significant erosion of progress in several of these policy areas. Funding reductions in the Department of Children and Family Services are posing serious risks for the state’s most vulnerable children. Deep cuts in community mental health programs have severely set back efforts to promote the social-emotional well-being of children and adolescents.  

“It wasn’t long ago that investments in children were a high priority in Illinois. We recognized that we could make our families and communities stronger, while contributing to the state’s long-term economic growth. We can’t continue to allow the state’s fiscal crisis to justify policy choices that put our children, families, and communities at risk,” Gieseke said.

Challenges and Opportunities

The findings in “Moving Policy, Making Progress” underline several major challenges that Illinois must address to ensure a better future for children and families, including the ongoing state fiscal crisis, disturbing trends in child poverty, persistent racial-ethnic disparities in child well-being, and the traumatic impact of children’s exposure to violence.

The report calls for a renewed commitment to investing in opportunities for children: “Our past experience shows that we can and must do better,” Gieseke said. “We can improve children’s lives through sound policies that effectively address the issues and challenges facing families. Policymakers, educators, advocates, and families must work together to ensure that all children have the opportunity to reach their full potential and become productive, contributing members of their communities.

“When we invest in all our children — not just the ones in our household or on our block — we all benefit from a more vibrant economy, a stronger social fabric, and a brighter future,” Gieseke said.

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Illinois Kids Count is a project of Voices for Illinois Children and is part of a nationwide network of state-level projects supported by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. The annual Illinois Kids Count report is widely regarded as the most thorough examination of children’s lives in the state. It uses the best available data to monitor the educational, social-emotional, economic, and physical well-being of Illinois children. The entire report and accompanying information is available at http://www.voices4kids.org/publications-multimedia/kids-count-reports/illinois-kids-count-2013/.

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