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Birth to 5

Learning begins at birth. Positive interactions in the first few years of life — nurturing, loving, encouraging interactions from parents, caregivers, and teachers — set the foundation for the mastery of important developmental milestones. A child’s mastery of each developmental stage is shaped by the interplay and influence of family and community, early childhood care and learning, healthcare, nutrition, physical and mental health, and access to early intervention. All these factors work together to support a child’s healthy development. Investing in young children — particularly low-income, at-risk children — positions them for success in school, at work, and throughout life. The future health of our families, our communities, and our state’s economy depends on the investments in children we make today.

Issue Areas

Home Visiting:  Pregnancy and a new baby bring families great joy, but also new challenges and responsibilities. High-quality home visiting programs for “at risk” families can foster better maternal and child health, enhanced school readiness, and improved parenting skills. Unfortunately, state funding for Parents Too Soon and Healthy Families Illinois home visiting programs has been cut, denying children and families needed support at a critical time in a child’s development. Voices has a strong history of advocacy for home visiting programs and co-chairs the Home Visiting Task Force of the Early Learning Council to raise awareness of the effectiveness of home visiting and secure adequate funding.

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke champions early childhood education as a way to increase children’s opportunities for success in life and benefit society — and the economy — as well, in this important address to the Children’s Defense Fund.

Preschool for All: Studies show that children who attend preschool repeat grades less, have fewer behavioral problems in school, and graduate at higher rates than their peers who don’t attend preschool. As adults, they are more likely to be employed, earn higher wages, and contribute more in taxes. Illinois has been a national leader in early education, but the combination of budget cuts and late payments to providers over the past three years has resulted in the loss of preschool services for an estimated 18,000 children. Illinois must reaffirm its commitment to expanding access to preschool to ensure that all young children enter kindergarten ready to learn.

Early Childhood Block Grant (ECBG):  The Early Childhood Block Grant provides critical state funding for early childhood education programs. ECBG is the primary funding stream for pre-kindergarten programs operated by local school districts and qualified community agencies. The funding also supports high-quality child development and family support programs for at-risk infants, toddlers, and their parents. ECBG funding creates opportunities for children and leads to better outcomes in the future, as our recent op-ed in the State Journal-Register illustrates. It’s a wise use of scarce resources: Every dollar invested in high-quality, early learning supports for a young child can yield a nearly $7 return on investment.

Voices has also conducted original research about how early childhood funding is used at the community level. In a recent paper, “Early Childhood Funding at the Community Level: A Case Study from Illinois,” that was published in the peer-reviewed Early Childhood Research and Practice, Larry Joseph and David Lloyd examined how the community of Evanston has dealt with significant cuts to state funding. (The paper has also been translated into Spanish.)

Early Intervention:  Research overwhelmingly supports the benefits of early intervention for children showing signs of developmental delays. Providing intervention services to young children from birth to age three helps ensure the best long-term outcomes. Voices has been at the forefront of efforts to ensure timely and appropriate services for young children who have diagnosed developmental delays or are at risk of delay. Voices was instrumental in the establishment of the Early Intervention (EI) program, which is supported by both state and federal funding. The EI program provides access to essential services such as physical, occupational, and speech therapies; vision and hearing services; social and emotional development and counseling services; and service coordination.

Head Start/Early Head Start:  The federal Head Start program was created to ensure that young children living in poverty are school ready by kindergarten. The program fosters children’s cognitive, social, and emotional development. Early Head Start was designed to address the comprehensive needs of low-income pregnant mothers and children under the age of 3. The programs create both center-based and home-visiting supports that promote growth in language, literacy, math, science, social and emotional learning, creative arts, and physical skills. Voices supports access to Head Start and Early Head Start as part of the continuum of early childhood programs that develop the “whole child.”

llinois Early Childhood Asset Map (IECAM):  The Illinois Early Childhood Asset Map provides a comprehensive picture of early care and education services by combining up-to-date demographic information with program data on state-funded preschool, Head Start, child care, early intervention, and home visiting. The project provides an important tool for resource allocation, planning, and policymaking for early childhood programs. IECAM is a project of the Illinois State Board of Education and is operated by the Clearinghouse on Early Education and Parenting at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.  Voices participates in the IECAM User Group, which provides IECAM staff with input on its Web Site, features, and resources to ensure that the project continues to be an effective source of information for policy decision-making and budget prioritization. We also raise awareness of IECAM as a quality resource through our policy, advocacy, and community engagement work.

For more information

Contact the Birth to 5 team

Gaylord Gieseke, President (312) 516-5565
Madelyn James, Project Director (312) 516-5573
Joan Vitale, Special Initiatives Director (312) 516-5555
Kelley Talbot, Assistant Director of Policy Advocacy (312) 516-5572
Sergio Hernandez, Jr., Policy Associate, Illinois Early Childhood Fellow (312) 516-5554