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The care of human life and happiness is the first and only legitimate objective of good government—Thomas Jefferson

Policy is the work of advancing the public interest through public action. Policy is made by elected or government officials or career civil servants at all levels—local, regional, state, and federal.

To build strong local systems and effect lasting community change, it’s important to understand the policies that impact children and families, as well as the policy process itself.

But first, let’s answer this question: What do we mean by public policies?

The most common forms of public policy are laws passed by legislators. However, there are many forms of policy that also impact the general public:

  • Legislation at any level (including local ordinances)
    The Illinois Child Care Assistance Program and the Early Childhood Block grant are examples of early childhood programs enacted by Illinois statute. Learn about the Illinois General Assembly here. At the Federal level, two recent examples are the Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge and Preschool Expansion grants.
  • Budgets
    Public budgets translate a government’s policy priorities and political commitments into revenue and expenditures for action. Illinois’ budget can be found here.
  • Rules and regulations
    When laws get passed, rules and regulations are created to explain how the laws should be implemented. Most guidance for the governance of programs is found in administrative code, such as eligibility requirements, co-payments, and accountability mechanisms. Learn more about the Illinois rule-making process.
  • Executive Order
    This is a legally binding order given by the U.S. President or state governor to one or more administrative agencies in the executive’s jurisdiction.

Public policies may be as detailed as providing requirements for state funded programs that fall outside the scope of administrative rule-making. They may also detail requirements and processes for procurement of services (such as requests for proposals or applications) that government needs to implement programs.

An important part of the policy process is finding the ways you can get involved and give feedback to decision makers about how policies may impact you or your community. The Illinois Early Learning Council and its many committees and subcommittees may provide opportunities to local collaborations to both stay informed, as well as provide crucial information as to how things work at the local level.

Policy is a key level in building effective and efficient systems for children and families. Visit the policy tools page for resources to become knowledgeable and stay informed.

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