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Early Childhood Initiatives in Illinois

The following list describes initiatives in Illinois aimed at increasing the availability, accessibility, or quality of early childhood programs and services within the state. Some initiatives are funded with public dollars, some are funded with private dollars, and some reflect a partnership of public and private support. Please contact us if you know of other early childhood initiatives in Illinois that are not included below.

Birth to Five Project
The Birth to Five Project, part of the multistate Build Initiative, is a collaborative effort to link state-level systems planning bodies in Illinois, to identify system gaps and barriers that prevent families from accessing the information and programs they need, and to develop solutions to resolve those gaps and barriers. The goals are to maximize existing investments in early childhood; reduce duplication in programs and services at the local level; and ensure that all Illinois children are safe, healthy, eager to learn, and ready to succeed by the time they enter school. To achieve the project's goals, Birth to Five committees and ad hoc workgroups focus on building a comprehensive system for expecting families and families with young children that includes education and care, social and emotional development, maternal and child health and nutrition, specialized services, parenting and family support, and community services such as libraries and parks. [Contact: Karen Yarbrough; Ounce of Prevention Fund at 312-922-3863 or]
Caregiver Connections
In 2003, the Illinois Children’s Mental Health Act paved the way for a unified and comprehensive system of prevention, early intervention, and treatment options to address children’s mental health in our state. In 2004, the Illinois Department of Human Services established Caregiver Connections to bring mental health services to Illinois child care providers working with children birth through age 5. Services offered include consultation, technical assistance, referral, and linkages. Local Caregiver Connections consultants and the local child care resource and referral (CCR&R) agencies share the same territories and work in partnership to provide training and technical assistance to Illinois child care providers. [Contact: John Roope, Project Manager at 217-231-0500 or]
Chicago Metropolis 2020
Chicago Metropolis 2020 is a membership organization with representatives from business, labor, civic, religious, and governmental organizations focused on the interdependent needs of transportation, housing, the environment, and early care and education in the Chicago metropolitan area. Chicago Metropolis 2020 produces resource guides and reports to promote broad access to affordable and high-quality early care and education. [Contact: 312-332-2020]
Childhood Obesity Project
The Childhood Obesity Project (COP) provides resources for child care practitioners and parents on healthy meal planning, keeping fit, and other health-related topics. COP is a partnership of the Illinois Network of Child Care Resource & Referral Agencies and the Illinois Department of Human Services. [Contact:]
Consortium to Lower Obesity in Chicago Children
The Consortium to Lower Obesity in Chicago Children (CLOCC) is a nationally recognized group that brings together hundreds of organizations and individuals to confront childhood obesity in Chicago. CLOCC fosters and facilitates connections among researchers; public health advocates and practitioners; corporations; policy makers; and children, families, and communities. CLOCC provides “Healthy Early Childhood Toolkits” to help caregivers and teachers support healthy eating and physical activity in early childhood settings. [Contact: 312-573-7764 or]
Early Learning Council
The Illinois Early Learning Council, created by statute in 2003, is composed of gubernatorial and legislative appointees representing a broad range of constituencies, including schools, child care centers and homes, Head Start, higher education, government agencies, the General Assembly, business, law enforcement, foundations, and parents. The Council's goal is to meet the early learning needs of children from birth to age 5 and their families by establishing a high-quality, accessible, and comprehensive statewide early learning system. The Council guides collaborative efforts to coordinate, improve, and expand upon existing early childhood programs and services, including making use of existing reports, research, and planning efforts. The broad purpose of the Council is to (1) implement recommendations of previous and ongoing early childhood efforts and initiatives; (2) develop multiyear plans to address gaps and insufficient capacity and to ensure quality; (3) reduce or eliminate policy, regulatory, and funding barriers; and (4) engage in collaborative planning, coordination, and linkages across programs, divisions, and agencies at the state level. [Contact: Harriet Meyer at 312-704-2175 or]
Early Learning Illinois Campaign
This statewide campaign to improve and expand early learning opportunities for all Illinois children is a joint project of the Illinois Action for Children, Ounce of Prevention Fund, and Voices for Illinois Children. [Contact: Sean Noble at 312-516-5566 or]
Gateways to Opportunity Career Lattice
The term "career lattice" is meant to create the vision of a trellis that provides multiple opportunities for growth and development, as opposed to a career ladder that enables only vertical movement along a single track. A career lattice describes how individuals can move (horizontally, vertically, and diagonally) within a single system or across systems as positions became available and as professional preparation enables them to seek and move into positions with more responsibility and increased compensation. The Illinois Early Childhood Career Lattice forms the foundation necessary to effectively link credential and degree programs, college faculty and administration, and community-based training entities, as well as facilitate smooth transitions through the educational system for students to attain meaningful credentials, degrees, and employment. [Contact: Illinois Network of Child Care Resource & Referral Agencies at 800-649-1884 or]
Gateways to Opportunity Scholarship Program
The Gateways Scholarship Program replaces the T.E.A.C.H. Illinois Early Childhood® Program. The Gateways Scholarship Program is a scholarship opportunity for individual practitioners working in the field of early care and education. Practitioners working in Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (IDCFS) licensed centers and homes can apply for a Gateways Scholarship, which will pay a percentage of the cost of tuition, fees, and books based on the income of an eligible participant working in a child care setting. The program also provides bonuses based on an eligible participant’s grade point average and completion of work commitment requirements in early childhood care and education. [Contact: Illinois Network of Child Care Resource & Referral Agencies at 866-697-8278 or]
The goal of the Great START (Strategy to Attract and Retain Teachers) program is to improve children's developmental and educational outcomes by encouraging increased professional preparation and retention of child care personnel in Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (IDCFS) licensed centers and homes. A child's positive development in child care is dependent upon consistent interaction between the child and his/her caregiver and the level of a child care professional's formal academic preparation. Great START rewards child care professionals by supplementing their income based on education they have already attained above IDCFS licensing standards. [Contact: Illinois Network of Child Care Resource & Referral Agencies at 866-MY-START or]
Heartland Equity and Inclusion Project (HEIP)
The Heartland Equity and Inclusion Project (HEIP) is a four-year project funded by the Office of Special Education Programs of the U.S. Department of Education. HEIP is designed to ensure that paraprofessionals have the knowledge, skills, and dispositions required to support the diverse development and learning needs of young children and their families in high-quality, inclusive classroom communities. The project addresses a significant issue in the fields of early childhood and early childhood special education today—the lack of blended community college paraprofessional programs that prepare students to support the development and learning of each and every child. [Contact: Joanna Darragh-Ernst; Heartland Community College at 309-268-8746]
Hug-a-Book: An Early Literacy Initiative of Family Focus, Inc
Hug-a-Book helps teachers, parents, and other adults to instill a love of books and reading in young children of diverse backgrounds. Hug-a-Book provides customized workshops on best practices in early literacy education for early childhood centers, public schools, home child care networks, parent/child drop-in centers, homeless shelters, and substance abuse treatment centers. [Contact: 310 S. Peoria, Suite 301; Chicago, IL 60607; 312-421-5200 or]
Illinois Children's Mental Health Partnership
In 2003, the Illinois Children's Mental Health Act called for the formation of the Illinois Children’s Mental Health Partnership (ICMHP). Its purpose was to create a plan to provide comprehensive, coordinated mental health prevention, early intervention, and treatment services for children from birth to age 18, and for youth ages 19-21 who are transitioning out of key public programs. ICMHP is composed of 25 members appointed by the Governor who represent families, children and youth, policy makers, advocates, and key systems including mental health, education, early childhood, health, child welfare, substance abuse prevention, violence prevention, and juvenile justice. [Contact: Colette Lueck, Managing Director; Illinois Children’s Mental Health Partnership at]
Illinois Director Credential
The purpose of the Illinois Director Credential project is to validate the achievement of competencies necessary for effective leadership and management of center-based early care and education programs. The goals of the credential are to establish professional standards in management and leadership for center-based early childhood and school-age administrators; recognize the specialized knowledge and skills required to be an effective manager of a center-based program; improve the quality of programs that serve young children and their families; and improve social, emotional, cognitive, and physical developmental outcomes for children. [Contact: Gateways to Opportunity at 888-548-8080]
Illinois Early Childhood Collaboration
The Illinois Early Childhood Collaboration Web site was created to make collaboration models and resources accessible to the Illinois early care and education community. It is a project of the Collaboration and Integration Committee of the Illinois Department of Human Services (IDHS) Child Care Advisory Council. The site describes collaboration models and provides information in three areas: program, community, and family child care homes. The site includes profiles of Illinois early care and education program and community collaborations. Funding for the Illinois Early Childhood Collaboration Web site is provided by the IDHS Head Start State Collaboration Office. [Contact: Gina Ruther, Director; Head Start State Collaboration Office at 618-583-2083]
Illinois Infant Toddler Credential
The Illinois Infant Toddler Credential (ITC) is one of several credentials developed for Gateways to Opportunity. The voluntary credential validates the achievement and expertise of practitioners and serves as a symbol of professional achievement. The purpose of this credential is to formalize the knowledge of those working with children under age 3, improve the quality of services, increase positive outcomes experienced by infants and toddlers, and increase the availability of infant-toddler coursework and training.
Illinois Quality Counts: Quality Rating System (QRS)
The Illinois Department of Human Services (IDHS) began implementation of the new Illinois Quality Counts: Quality Rating System (QRS) on July 1, 2007. The overall goal of QRS is to assist child care providers with program quality improvement. QRS is a voluntary system available to License-Exempt Family Child Care Providers, Licensed Family/Group Home Child Care Providers, and Licensed Centers. To participate in QRS, programs must serve a specific number or percentage of children eligible for the IDHS Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP). In addition, programs must meet specific eligibility requirements based on the type of care they offer. License-Exempt Family Child Care Providers need to complete specific training requirements to become eligible for one of three progressive QRS Training Tiers. Licensed Family/Group Home Child Care Providers and Licensed Child Care Centers need to meet specific indicators of quality related to the following areas: learning environment, program administration, and provider qualifications and training. Eligible licensed programs are awarded with a “star” rating at one of four progressive levels. [Contact: Illinois Network of Child Care Resource & Referral Agencies (INCCRRA) at]
Illinois State Board of Education’s Homeless Education Program
The goal of this statewide initiative is to disseminate information to Illinois schools and shelters about the educational rights and needs of homeless children and youth. The Web site includes free education materials, brochures, posters, DVDs, and up-to-date training materials, as well as a statewide directory of homeless liaisons by school district. Homeless liaisons can provide assistance even if children are not old enough for regular school. [Contact: Illinois State Board of Education at 800-215-6379]
Leadership to Integrate the Learning Continuum (LINC)
LINC is a statewide initiative examining how education leaders can improve the learning continuum in Illinois by supporting seamless transitions from early care and education through K-12 education. The project is located within the College of Education at Illinois State University and is funded by the McCormick Foundation. [Contact: Lisa Hood, Director at]
Statewide Accreditation Mentoring (SAM) Project
The Statewide Accreditation Mentoring Project, an initiative of the Illinois Association for the Education of Young Children (AEYC), seeks to improve the quality of care and education of all Illinois children by providing mentoring support and financial assistance to child care/education programs in center- or home-based settings that are in the accreditation process through NAEYC or NAFCC. [Contact: Illinois AEYC at 800-773-0369]
Strengthening Families Illinois
Strengthening Families Illinois is a collaborative initiative bringing together more than 20 partner organizations and state agencies from the child welfare, child abuse prevention, and early childhood fields to integrate existing strategies to prevent child abuse and neglect through early care and education programs. Illinois is one of seven states selected by the Center for the Study for Social Policy to pilot this new strategy to prevent child abuse and neglect. [Contact: Guy Schingoethe, Communications and PR Coordinator at 312-421-5200, ext. 125;


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The Illinois Early Learning Project Web site is a source of evidence-based, reliable information on early care and education for parents, caregivers, and teachers of young children in Illinois.

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