On Sunday, March 5, 2023, friends and supporters of the Collaboration for Early Childhood as well as candidates running for local office gathered together to learn a little bit more about the work of the Collaboration.
Attendees had a chance to meet Mary Reynolds, the Collaboration’s newly appointed Executive Director, who will assume her role in April. At the event, Interim Executive Director Laura Crawford described the Collaboration, and the structure of early childhood care and education in general, from a systems lens. We wanted to share her remarks here, because they are a great way to think about what we do and why it matters.
Pictured above from left: Kristina Rogers, Mary Reynolds, Carollina Song, Cory Wesley
Pictured above from left: Maya Ganguly, Elizbeth Lippitt, Thomas Gary, Carollina Song, Brian Straw
Pictured above from left: Jonathan Livingston, Thomas Gary, Debbie McCann, David Weindling
The Collaboration for Early Childhood is a System of Support in Our Community
Laura Crawford’s Remarks:
When I worked at the Ounce of Prevention, now Start Early, that’s when I really started learning about the importance of early childhood. I became familiar with James Heckman’s research on how investing in early childhood strengthens families and reduces social issues – and therefore social spending – later in life. The lightbulb really went off – why wait until a child is in elementary school to start teaching executive functioning skills? If you could reduce health issues that present later in life, things like strokes and diabetes, by providing solid relationships in the earliest years, why wouldn’t you do that? It seems like a no-brainer.
The thing that resonates the most for me, though, is that support of early childhood is an equity issue. High-quality early childhood experiences have been shown to level the playing field for children of differing income levels. These experiences provide so many benefits later in life – in the form of higher college graduation rates, lower probability of special education placement, more economic mobility, better health outcomes, and overall reduced public social spending. Investing in the early childhood years is an area where people of all political persuasions can find common ground to work together to support families.
I’ll be honest, at the Collaboration for Early Childhood, we do so many things that we often struggle to explain what we do. But think for a moment about what a public school system does. First off, it’s a system. A system of services, all with the goal of educating and caring for children. You have teachers, who are highly trained educators who teach the children. You have health staff like nurses and social workers. You have special education staff who evaluate children and get them appropriate services. There are administrators who work in curriculum development and people like data specialists. You have PTOs and fun school events to connect with families. These are all people who work every day in a coordinated way to educate children and get them on the path that’s best for them. They’re all part of a system. You have that in elementary school, middle school, high school and college. That system does not exist for early childhood. And yet, all the research tells us that those early childhood years are crucial for positive outcomes later in life.
The Collaboration for Early Childhood acts as that system of support in our community. We train early childhood teachers, we reach out to families, we provide health resources. But the key thing is that the 12 of us on staff don’t do all these things. As a collective impact organization, we do do some of them, a lot of them. There are so many others in the community who do things like provide speech therapy or offer storytime or get parents together for coffee and playgroups. And of course, all the preschools and child care programs and family child care providers operate independently as their own businesses. How do families even know how to find a preschool? How do they know where to go when they have a question about something, anything really, to do with their child? We help them with that.
We’re the door to knock on for all things early childhood. We’re the connective tissue or the architecture or the system that connects them all together. We connect the teachers with training that’s out there, and we also provide training. We connect children to doctors and social workers who are out there, and we also provide early childhood mental health services. We connect families to events that are out there, and we host events for families. We di this collectively with our partners in the community. This, in a nutshell, is what an early childhood system looks like. And that’s what we do.
One more important point I want to make is that the Collaboration has been around for 20 years, with local public support for almost 10 years now. We have been at the forefront of what an early childhood system can look like. State Senator Don Harmon was inspired by the Collaboration’s early model and sponsored legislation that established the Illinois Early Learning Council. After that, as a former State Senator, President Obama proposed a national Early Learning Council based on the one in Illinois. That’s us! I say that both to brag a little, because seriously how cool is that? and to say that what we do here on the local level really matters. It really, really does.
The Collaboration is also involved with initiatives that feed up to the Governor’s office, and if you heard the Governor’s recent budget address you know that there is a very strong commitment to early childhood in Illinois. It’s a very exciting time to be doing this work for children and families in our community and we could not do it without your support.
Pictured above from left: Mary Reynolds, Whitney Brooks, Shannon Ellison, Laura Crawford, Lisa Jarvis, Mary Quest, Michelle Howell, Wendy Giardina