Measuring the impact of our programs and progress in supporting very young children and their families is an essential part of the Collaboration’s work. It will be the key to our success. We are building a Unified Early Childhood database that merges data from more than 20 different systems that track the experiences of young children and their families.
This is the first such undertaking in the state of Illinois. It will enable the Collaboration and the Villages of Oak Park and River Forest to monitor the impact of their work with children as they progress through elementary school.
The Collaboration presents detailed quarterly reports to the Intergovernmental Agreement Governing Board on efforts to track 11 different indicators via the Unified Early Childhood database and additional program activities.
Research over the past 15 – 20 years makes it clear how important and complex it is to work with children from birth to kindergarten age. Despite this understanding, those who care for and educate children under five are not a cohesive workforce. These providers often lack the support and knowledge sharing needed to do their jobs. Strengthening this workforce is challenging because the care and education of children takes place in many different settings with different practitioner traditions and qualifications. Improving support and access to ongoing professional learning, higher education and technical support are essential to providing high-quality services to families.
Through a variety of professional development opportunities, the Collaboration fosters a commitment to high-quality early learning and child development programs throughout the community. With a focus on peer interaction, the Collaboration facilitates continuing education, professional advising, and consistent networking for providers, parents and guardians.
Staff from early learning programs, Oak Park Elementary School District 97 and police officers participated in the Collaboration's professional development programs to better serve our youth.
Through its Symposium, Round Table meetings and workshops, the Collaboration informs the work of hundreds of educators, caregivers and parents each year. Participants gain knowledge, perspective and practical skills to bring back to the children and families they interact with daily.
The Collaboration has been instrumental in the creation and implementation of ExceleRate Illinois, a rating system that parents can use to find quality child care centers.
The Collaboration surveys early childhood providers about their educational credentials and provides support to centers that aim to improve their ExceleRate quality rating level.
Through a combination of staff development and technical support, the Collaboration raises the bar for early childhood services in Oak Park and River Forest.
All parents want their children to succeed in school and in life. However, pressures in parents’ daily lives can create a sense of fragmentation and isolation. Few parents feel fully equipped to best support their children’s development.
In surveys of Oak Park families, most parents and guardians report feelings of isolation and stress when trying to locate early childhood services. They report a lack of knowledge about their child’s development and how best to support it. Many parents of very young children are new to Oak Park and River Forest. They may live far from extended family members and struggle to establish a sense of connection and community.
Disadvantaged families face the greatest challenges to accessing services and programs for their children and have fewer resources to invest in effective early development.
Through a combination of home visits, playgroups, workshops, parent coaching and an annual Symposium, the Collaboration equips parents with tools and resources to increase their confidence in raising children. Connections to other parents are important in building new networks where people can share knowledge and seek assistance from peers.
The Collaboration’s Early Childhood Resource Directory and online Resource Library offer parents additional information on everything from how to find quality child care to raising a reader or promoting good nutrition.
The Collaboration’s partnership with Easterseals gives parents many opportunities to learn, get the support they need, have children play together and receive referrals for developmental services if so required. More than 150 families have received home visiting support through the Parents as Teachers program.
The Early Childhood Resource Directory is available free at many outlets around Oak Park and River Forest. This directory lists all licensed child care centers and family day care providers in Oak Park, River Forest, and Forest Park, along with suggestions on what to look for in a quality facility.
Early identification of developmental delays or hearing and vision impairments, coupled with effective intervention, allows children to maximize their learning potential. Unfortunately, many families do not have ready information about or access to early childhood screening and developmental services.
According the federal Centers for Disease Control, only 50% of children nationwide receive developmental screening before age five; in Illinois, the rate is lower--only 28%. Yet, the American Academy of Pediatricians recommends at least three developmental screenings between birth and age three.
Similarly, a significant number of children miss recommended hearing and/or vision screenings prior to school age. Even when a child receives a screening, physicians and preschool and child care staff struggle to make effective referrals and learn whether a child is eligible for services, further frustrating families and providers in their efforts to make sure children’s developmental needs are met.
The Collaboration provides support to physicians and early childhood providers to conduct developmental screenings of all children in their care using appropriate screening tools. Children are screened in the areas of communication, social/emotional development, cognition, motor skills, hearing, and vision.
Two Collaboration publications, Watch and Help Me Grow and the newly updated Developmental Referral and Services Directory, help providers and parents identify what to do and where to go when early intervention services may be required.
A key Collaboration activity is tracking whether children who need additional services are actually receiving them.
Through networking opportunities and written publications, the Collaboration supports parents and professionals to identify concerns with growth milestones. Trainings are conducted to ensure screening tools are used consistently.
More than 1,250 preschool age children in Oak Park were screened for hearing or vision delays this year. More than 1,300 were screened using a tool that looks at a child's social and emotional development, something researchers are proving is key to future outcomes.
Oak Park and River Forest families are fortunate to have four free, public preschool programs for families who meet certain criteria. However, the programs operate under four different administrative structures making it difficult for teachers to function as a cohesive workforce. Additionally, parents and guardians often do not know of these programs or are unsure how to determine which one is right for their family.
It is an ongoing challenge to find and enroll children who benefit most from these programs. Many families confronting multiple risks are isolated, lack resources to support their children’s development or are unaware of the importance of high-quality early learning experiences on their child’s success in learning and in life.
The Collaboration coordinates outreach activities to find families that may qualify for free preschool and helps get them into the right program. The four Program Directors and Collaboration staff work together to coordinate curriculum, professional development, and share tools to track the progress of children in these centers.
The four public preschools serve up to 239 Oak Park and River Forest children. These children come from low-income families, are in foster care, or a developmental screening process has shown they can benefit from early learning services that the preschools provide.
The Collaboration provides a support mechanism for the public preschools to serve the most vulnerable young children in a high-quality environment in order to enter Kindergarten at their best.