Our mission at Illinois Action For Children is to be a catalyst for organizing, developing, and supporting strong families and powerful communities where children matter most. We believe that all children, particularly those experiencing poverty, must have access to quality early care and education. We believe systems of family and community support can lead to success in school—and life.

Since we began in 1969, our approach has been to offer resources, build community, and support advocacy.

IAFC’s portfolio of community systems development initiatives currently includes the Consortium and the Innovation Zones. Learn more about these initiatives and some of our other work related to these efforts.

The goal of Illinois' Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge (RTT-ELC) initiative is to ensure “children with highest needs receive high quality early learning services within a comprehensive system that serves all children.” To meet these ambitious aims, it’s crucial that state and local levels align and integrate early childhood resources. Our goal is to help construct strong systems at the community level, which is a key part of providing comprehensive services to children with high and complex needs. The Consortium for Community Systems Development, funded by RTT-ELC, is leading efforts to strengthen and systematize local collaborations across the state. The Consortium—led by Illinois Action for Children (in partnership with the Illinois Governor’s Office of Early Childhood Development)—is focusing new attention on local and regional childhood collaborations that support system building. Our work is concentrated in three areas:

  • Strategic Planning: We’re leading the implementation of a vision and framework for embedding a community systems development approach within the Illinois early childhood system.
  • Training & Technical Assistance: We’re educating local systems builders and teaching them the importance of starting, developing, and continuously improving their collaborations.
  • Developing a sustainable support system: We’re creating strategic partnerships to promote and embed technical assistance and training within existing systems.

In 2012, Illinois was awarded a Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge grant to strengthen early childhood systems and kindergarten readiness for Illinois children. (The U.S. departments of Education and Health and Human Services provided the grant.)

Illinois Action for Children coordinates statewide Innovation Zone activities to help the state test strategies to increase the enrollment of children with very high needs in high quality early learning and development programs. The most effective strategies will be recommended for statewide or larger-scale adoption.

The Governor’s Office of Early Childhood development awarded the grant to the Innovation Zones based on several factors: level of concentrated need, presence of providers with a demonstrated interest in quality improvement, a history of collaboration among early education providers, and strong local support for early learning. Innovation Zones exist in the following communities across Illinois:

* The state expanded Innovation Zones to four new communities in April 2015.

The Work
The goal of Innovation Zone communities is to identify strategies that have the greatest impact on Illinois’ early learning priorities. Innovation Zones use a community systems development approach and a data-guided process based on the “Lean Start-Up.” These practices allow Innovation Zones to be adaptive and capture local learning for system modifications in policy, program, and practice.

For more information and updates about Innovation Zones, contact Leah Pouw at 773.564.8870

Illinois Action for Children is supporting the development of early care and education planning groups and the implementation of locally-driven strategies.

Thanks to funding from the Grand Victoria Foundation, IAFC and a resident partner have worked together to build local capacity for high quality early care and education in Aurora, Lake County, Peoria, McHenry County, East St. Louis, and Joliet. Click to learn more information on each of these partners.

Fox Valley United Way, SPARK
Early Care and Education: A Critical Investment in Aurora’s Future documents

Lake County
United Way of Lake County

Heart of Illinois United Way

McHenry County
Options & Advocacy and 4-C: Community Coordinated Child Care
Early Care and Education: A Smart Investment for McHenry County
Why Early Care and Education Matters in McHenry County

Community work no longer funded by this project:
East St. Louis
IFF (Formerly Illinois Facilities Fund)

Through a State Advisory Council grant in cooperation with the Governor’s Office of Early Childhood Development, 22 communities received one-time grants ranging from $1,000 to $9,999. The ECAP project ran from May 2012 until April 2013. A list of communities and archived materials are available below.

Adams County
Belvidere Boone County
Champaign County
Chicago-Logan Square
Coles County
East St. Louis
Henderson and Warren Counties
Jefferson County
Kankakee County
Lake County
Logan County
Oak Park
Rock Island County
South Suburban Cook
Southern 15 Counties
Whiteside County

ECAP Final Report
ECAP Webinars
Grantee Webinar
Pathways Training 11/14/12
Building a High Performing Team

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