2024-2026 Strategic Plan

Grounded and Growing: Expanding a Web of Support for Young Children

2024-2026 Forward-Looking Goals and Priorities

In October of 2023, the Collaboration for Early Childhood’s Board of Directors and Collaboration Council endorsed a 2024-2026 Strategic Plan to guide the organization’s work. The Plan is the culmination of a process that gathered rich insights from board members, staff, educators, parents/caregivers, health care providers, community partners and the Collaboration Council. You can read the press release here.

We are proud to present an ambitious growth-oriented strategic plan, designed to fortify the Collaboration for Early Childhood’s strong foundation and advance its mission and vision. The Collaboration will focus its efforts in the following four directions:

We are proud to present an ambitious growth-oriented strategic plan, designed to fortify the Collaboration for Early Childhood’s strong foundation and advance its mission and vision. The Collaboration will focus its efforts in the following four directions:

Deepen Local Impact

With the input and collaboration of the Oak Park and River Forest communities, the Collaboration will deepen its roots by increasing its presence, continuing to build early childhood system capacity, and innovating to serve the evolving needs of young children, families, and early childhood professionals.

Widen System Impact

To further the reach of its vision, the Collaboration will expand its work by convening, learning, collaborating, and advising on new ideas, including with state and local partners beyond Oak Park and River Forest’s borders, to support the needs of young children, families, and early childhood professionals.

Cultivate Organizational Maturation

To ensure it can continue to grow its impact and most effectively deliver on its vision, the Collaboration will further develop its internal governance and operational systems, efficacy in addressing equity and inclusion, capabilities of staff, and organizational culture. 

Ensure Financial Sustainability

To sustain the vision of its model and the mission of its work, the Collaboration will take steps to ensure it remains financially stable for years to come, including diversifying its revenue sources and making decisions to invest in its future, while considering the evolving dynamics of early childhood funding sources.

Year 1 – Implementation Plan

You can follow along on our progress by viewing the embedded document below. You can also open the Implementation Plan in a new tab here

Mission, Vision, and Core Values

As part of its strategic planning process, the Collaboration for Early Childhood refreshed its mission, vision, and core values to better reflect how the organization has evolved.

Mission:

The Collaboration for Early Childhood is a community-driven organization that cultivates the development of the whole child, birth to age five, by engaging families, local organizations, early childhood educators, caregivers, and health providers to create equitable, nurturing, and interconnected systems of support.

Vision:

The Collaboration for Early Childhood envisions communities where every young child has the care, relationships, and resources needed to thrive and to begin school safe, healthy, and empowered to succeed.

Core Values:

 

Collaboration Works with partners in a way that is mutual and respectful; encourages listening, knowledge sharing, and joint problem-solving; allows each party to strengthen its own capabilities by learning from others; and realizes a shared commitment to more equitably serving the needs of young children, families, and early childhood professionals.
Whole Child Meets each child where they are and supports all aspects of the child’s development – physical, social, emotional, cognitive – while respecting each child as a member of the community and as an individual, including the child’s ability, culture, ethnicity, gender, language, race, and religion.
Equity Ensures that a diverse range of voices contributes to the Collaboration’s efforts, particularly the important work of dismantling systemic barriers that have historically limited access to high quality services and supports for children and families who are under-resourced or marginalized, while celebrating the range of backgrounds, experiences, and identities that comprise an inclusive community.
Community-Driven Engages local families and early childhood professionals to gather their wisdom and perspectives, utilizing the findings to ensure the Collaboration’s work is continually and culturally responsive to the expressed needs, hopes, and interests of young children, families, early childhood professionals, and communities in which they live.
Organizational Professionalism Operates with honesty, integrity, and accountability, in a way that is continually informed by research and community input; reliably, responsibly, and respectfully delivers high-quality work and effective outcomes; and transparently reports progress and adjusts strategies to ensure continuous improvement in impacting the children, families, early childhood professionals and communities with whom we work.

Vision for Success

Deepen Local Impact
  • More stability and improved systems across the Oak Park and River Forest early childhood sector. 
  • Children in Oak Park and River Forest arrive at kindergarten with fewer unmet needs.  
  • The Collaboration is viewed as a trusted resource by families and early care and education providers. 
  • The Collaboration is increasingly recognized as a key partner by D97, demonstrated by implementation of new and innovative initiatives. 
Widen System Impact
  • Working partnerships in place with organizations in neighboring communities, with each local community informing decision-making.
     
  • A respected presence and voice at the State level, as demonstrated by increased visibility informing key legislators and policy makers on early childhood issues. 
Cultivate Organizational Maturation
  • Bylaws reflect a governance structure of a mature, professionalized organization that is committed to community input and collaboration. 
  • The Board operates as a governing board, focused on policy and strategic direction, rather than a working board engaged in day-to-day programming initiatives and operations. 
  • The Collaboration’s Program Committees are working in sync toward a shared vision and continue to serve as a robust community voice advising the Collaboration’s work.  
  • The Collaboration’s systems and infrastructure have grown to support ongoing operations, including capacity to attend to its staff, their capabilities, and the ability to do the work. 
Ensure Financial Sustainability
  • Diverse revenue streams sufficient to meet program and operational needs of the Collaboration, with new funding sources aligned with existing mission, strategic plan, and organizational capacity to deliver. 
  • Meet long-term financial stability goals, to be established by the Finance Committee. 

 

Strategies

DEEPEN LOCAL IMPACT 🌱

  • Continue to convene and nourish a coordinated high-quality early childhood system in Oak Park and River Forest by prioritizing capacity building of existing agencies. The Collaboration will prioritize opportunities to serve as an intermediary for mentoring, technical support, funding, and information sharing designed to strengthen local agencies and the overall early childhood system. For example, such work includes providing space to share information and advance collective problem-solving, as well as seeking opportunities to secure and distribute grant resources to local agencies serving young children and providing technical support to agencies directly applying for specific funding opportunities. 
  • Enhance existing and implement new strategies to support greater system navigation. Partners expressed hunger for new or additional tools to help them locate and connect with specific resources for children and families, particularly those that may be outside of their area of expertise. Feedback consistently stated interest in more “connectors and magical phone numbers” to guide families and professionals to services, thereby enhancing availability of opportunities. As organizations evolve and staffing assignments shift, the need for a consistent, uniform knowledge base is important. The Collaboration will continue to find ways to enhance system navigation, such as by incorporating such information into professional development offerings for early childhood educators and events for health and development professionals or other service providers to assist them in identifying social services for the children and families they serve. The Collaboration will also explore the expansion or growth of Coordinated Intake, a warm line-type service currently staffed by a local partner to direct Oak Park and River Forest families and early childhood educators to needed services. Assessment of any potential expansion would contemplate questions related to geographic boundaries, audience type, capacity, needed funding, and more. 
  • Develop and implement strategies to fill gaps for young children born during the height of COVID as they prepare to enter kindergarten 2024-2027. It is no secret that young children and families across the globe were impacted by the pandemic. Disruptions lasted even longer for families with children, age five and below, as young children remained ineligible for vaccination until June, 2022, with many families remaining vaccine hesitant thereafter. Despite the importance of such health and safety precautions, most children born from approximately 2019-2022 experienced a version of early childhood education and care, socialization, and social-emotional learning that differed from older children. The pandemic also highlighted the degree that mental health challenges impact youth across the country, leading the United States Surgeon General to declare a mental health crisis. Given the long tail of COVID, its impact on young children, and reduced workforce capacity in the education and healthcare systems, the Collaboration has heard a significant and increased need for early intervention supports to help young children, families, and professionals navigate the new normal. That is why, during this strategic plan, the Collaboration will work with partners to implement strategies such as working with Occupational Therapists to help early care and education providers develop more tools to support children’s development and well-being in learning environments. For example, the Collaboration will develop “sensory kits” with materials that support development of a child’s ability to adjust and manage their energy level, emotions, behaviors, and attention, as well as coach educators on how to leverage the kits, thereby increasing their capacity to provide personalized strategies to the needs of children in their programs. The Collaboration will also assess utilization of mental health consultation for early childhood providers and potentially refine its structure for the greatest impact.  
  • Advance the Collaboration’s efforts to address health equity across its various program areas. The first few years of life are critical in establishing a child’s path toward health and well-being. Despite increasing evidence about what contributes to poor health, health inequities have persisted, caused by a variety of societal barriers. In partnership with its Health and Development Committee, the Collaboration has already implemented initiatives designed to identify and address such barriers to increase opportunities for young children to live the healthiest life possible. Moving forward, it will explore ways to lean into and expand this work, such as by continuing to monitor social determinants of health, and expanding resources and supports for expecting families to address health inequities among pregnant people. 
  • Deepen partnerships with Oak Park Elementary School District 97 (D97), Oak Park and River Forest High School District 200 (D200), and other local public and private agencies to expand the coordination and delivery of services. In March 2023, D97 unveiled a community process to envision a Portrait of an Oak Park 8th Grade Graduate that will define the community’s vision for the skills, character traits, and social emotional abilities a student would need to succeed as they get older. The results of the process are expected to be released on a timeline that aligns with this strategic plan. Recognizing that development of such skills and traits begins long before the first day of kindergarten, the Collaboration commits to deepening its partnerships with D97, D200, and various other local public and private agencies serving young children and families in Oak Park and River Forest to enhance the coordination and delivery of services in the first five years of that student’s lifelong journey. For example, the Collaboration will facilitate transitions to kindergarten through events such as Blast Off to Kindergarten, engage kindergarten teachers more actively in the Collaboration’s work, and create dedicated spaces for kindergarten and early childhood educators to collaborate. The Collaboration will also facilitate support and connections between community-based providers and D97’s early childhood programs. 
  • Reach new families and providers. Over its organizational history, the Collaboration has sought to expand its tent by bringing new families and providers to its planning tables and community events. Looking ahead, it leans into its commitment to ensuring a diverse range of families are engaged and connected to services, and that a diverse range of voices contribute to ongoing efforts to support the needs of young children and families. Looking ahead, the Collaboration will take a variety of steps, such as implementing systems and strategies to ensure a variety of voices are regularly heard at the Collaboration’s tables to inform evolving needs. The Collaboration will also audit its offerings and informational materials through the lens of inclusivity, evaluating to ensure that families of all types and care constellation structures can see themselves in the Collaboration’s work and that resources are available for children of various backgrounds and abilities. Recognizing that various other partners are also working to enhance inclusivity, the Collaboration intends to join forces with others to exchange best practices and increase the reach of its work.    

 

WIDEN SYSTEM IMPACT 🌐

  • By collaborating with neighbors, serve as a resource and partner to communities interested in building local collaborative models, shaped to fit their unique community needs. Birth to Five Illinois released an Early Childhood Regional Needs Assessment for West Cook County in August 2023, providing critical data regarding needs and recommendations for the region. The Collaboration recognizes the opportunity to widen its reach, either by replicating components of its model, or by collaborating with local partners in neighboring jurisdictions that are interested in building their own localized effort. With the support of philanthropic partners, the Collaboration recently began to implement outreach work to neighboring communities. The Collaboration will approach this work thoughtfully, blending community need and interest with opportunities as they become available. To begin, the Collaboration will assess where it can have the greatest impact outside of the Oak Park and River Forest borders. To do so, it will leverage the existing Birth to Five Illinois needs assessment and Community Voices report from the Oak Park-River Forest Community Foundation, while also taking steps to understand how local families experience each community in question. The sources are rich with input from people with lived experience, and using the information as a foundation, the Collaboration will develop a framework to inform decision-making regarding when and where it would agree to expand specific services and/or when and where to provide support and collaboration with partners in a specific geography seeking to achieve shared goals. 
  • Become more recognized as a leader in the State by leveraging the Collaboration’s partners to build an infrastructure for information sharing and advocacy on issues within its program areas impacting children, birth to five, their families, and the professionals who serve them. With the input of Program Committees and oversight by its Board of Directors, the Collaboration intends to set a family-centered policy agenda that lifts up personal experiences and professional expertise across the Collaboration’s program service areas. It will strategically build relationships with decision makers and policy makers and give voice to young children and early childhood professionals by proactively sharing lessons learned from the field. To advance its agenda, the Collaboration will also more intentionally partner with advocacy organizations tied to its work and identify opportunities to affect policy change aligned with the Collaboration’s priorities. 

 

CULTIVATE ORGANIZATIONAL MATURATION 🗂️

  • Design and implement sustainable systems to implement the work outlined in this plan while maintaining principles of accountability, community input, and continuous learning and improvement. The Collaboration has always embraced a continuous improvement mindset, building opportunities for reflection, learning, and refinement into its programming and collective impact work. The Collaboration also extends a philosophy of continuous improvement to its internal practices. In doing so, the Board and staff are committed to operationalizing and tracking progress toward the goals outlined in this plan, with regular opportunities for learning and reflection to refine its work. The Collaboration intends to approach this by: 
    • Developing a detailed implementation plan, including defining specific milestones and metrics to track progress toward strategic goals and establishing relevant baselines to guide its work. 
    • Developing a reporting structure and schedule to update the Board of Directors on progress toward strategic planning goals and initiatives. 
    • Conducting a refresh of the strategic plan in year three by evaluating progress and determining how to continue advancing the vision of the Collaboration and its collective work. 
  • Update and formalize the Collaboration’s Theory of Change to articulate how its programmatic strategies and collective impact model cultivate development of young children and empower them to succeed. A Theory of Change is a method that explains how a given intervention, or set of interventions, is expected to lead to specific outcomes. The Collaboration’s 2009 Strategic Plan outlined an initial philosophy that underpins its work, and as the Collaboration has grown, it has implemented that vision as outlined in its Program Services Model and other signature initiatives. By updating its Theory of Change, the Collaboration will connect the dots to describe how its program activities and collective impact model are tied to its overall vision, thereby serving as a guide to understanding progress and ultimate outcomes of its work. 
  • While using storytelling to illustrate impact, refine approaches to data collection and analysis to better understand, evaluate, and articulate the value of the Collaboration’s work. The Collaboration’s founding was underscored by the belief that investing in early childhood programs and innovative strategies for children, birth to age five, will increase their success in kindergarten and throughout their lifetimes. Much has been written about “return on investment” for early childhood education and care programming. Others note the complications of this approach and are advocating for different ways to evaluate impact. Given the Collaboration’s collective impact model, the ultimate outcomes of its work must be defined and tracked via a shared measurement system. To refine approaches to tracking the value of the Collaboration’s collective impact model, the Collaboration will approach this work by: 
    • Engaging the newly refreshed Measurement and Evaluation Committee to conduct a review and assessment of the external and internal data points currently collected and shared with various stakeholders, including but not limited to those shared with Oak Park and River Forest partners through the Intergovernmental Agreement (IGA) Contract for Early Childhood Services. 
    • Exploring new approaches to tracking outcomes for young children and/or evaluating the impact of the Collaboration’s efforts, as well as assessing the Collaboration’s potential access to additional data points that may be available from partners. 
    • Engaging in a collaborative process in which the Program Committees and the Measurement and Evaluation Committee make recommendations to enhance the Collaboration’s existing key metrics and processes to ensure the organization continues to track metrics that matter, including those that can best inform the long-term impact of the Collaboration’s work and its collective impact model. 
    • Working with partners to implement any agreed-upon adjustments to key metrics and processes in the Collaboration’s shared measurement system, continually seeking to improve the way it measures and tracks the collective impact of the Collaboration’s work. 
  • Facilitate transition from working board to governing board by refining governance practices and committing to Board development and training. Despite its growth, the Collaboration has not materially updated the governance structures outlined in its bylaws in over ten years. Moving forward, it is critical to ensure the appropriate strategic and fiduciary oversight is in place to govern the Collaboration’s growing budget and backbone function to various organizations, while advancing the shared goals of the collective impact model. Work to facilitate this transition shall include but not be limited to:  
    • Updating bylaws to reflect the organizational structure of a mature, professionalized organization that upholds core values of community input and collaboration. 
    • Reviewing and enhancing decision-making processes, including the role of Collaboration Council and various approaches to upholding the Collaboration’s core value of being community-driven. 
    • Defining and formally chartering Board Committees.  
    • Engaging in routine training of Board members in governance practices, as well as knowledge of the field of early childhood education and care and level-setting on issues related to equity and inclusion. 
    • Funding Board participation for early childhood professional development opportunities to inform their policy decisions. 
  • Articulate and operationalize the Collaboration’s commitment to equity and inclusion. Oak Park and River Forest are communities that embrace the diversity of its residents. Equity remains a core value of the Collaboration and is baked into how it works with children, families, and early childhood professionals. Yet opportunities exist to formalize the way in which the Collaboration defines equity, and how equity informs the Collaboration’s practices and operations. During this strategic plan, the Collaboration will take a series of steps including but not limited to: 
    • Defining and implementing a continued organizational approach to diversity, equity, and inclusion, including ensuring a shared meaning and commitment to the work and conducting trainings for staff, Board members, and other partners, as appropriate. 
    • Conducting equity assessments of the Collaboration’s organizational policies and procedures and developing strategies or refining practices to best uphold the Collaboration’s commitment to equity and inclusion. 
    • Continuing to take steps to ensure the Board of Directors and staff represents the diversity of the communities served by the Collaboration, and reviewing diversity of the vendors and consultants it partners with to deliver its work. 
  • Formalize the structure of the Collaboration’s Program Committees. The Collaboration’s Program Committees have served as a critical component of the Collaboration’s model, offering a structured approach to regularly gathering community input and expertise to best inform programming in a way that is responsive to local need. As the Collaboration takes steps to align its overall operational infrastructure with its organizational growth, it will also refine and better coordinate the work of its Program Committees to continue advancing the overall collective impact model. For example, work shall include: 
    • Defining and formally chartering each of the Program Committees.  
    • Formally defining what it means to be a partner of the Collaboration, including articulating expectations regarding how partners hold each other accountable as part of a collective effort. 
    • Creating and implementing a planning and information sharing system to better collaborate across Program Committees or working groups, thereby enhancing communication, coordinating cross-Committee goals, and better advancing a shared vision. 
    • Using the Collaboration’s existing DEI philosophy as a foundation, working with each Program Committee to articulate how its DEI approach is apparent in its work and outputs. 
  • Develop an organizational Human Resource strategy and practices. Since the hiring of its first paid staff member in 2009, the Collaboration’s staff has grown, overseen by the Board of Directors, to meet its programming and outreach needs. As the organization continues to grow, and as the Board transitions from a working board to a governing board with oversight of its one employee (the Executive Director), more formalized Human Resource strategies and systems must be created to ensure that the Collaboration is positioned as a sustainable entity that can attract and retain top talent to deliver on its critical mission. Specifically, the Collaboration’s forward-looking work includes: 
    • Regularly reviewing and refining job descriptions, performing evaluations, and incorporating expectations for cross-team and community collaboration. 
    • Prioritizing learning and development for all staff members to offer meaningful opportunities for professional growth, including by developing professional development and growth plans for each staff member, continuing to provide funding for participation for early childhood educational opportunities, and establishing a staff performance evaluation and feedback process for each employee. 
    • Conducting a salary and benefits survey to ensure that the Collaboration can continue to attract and retain talent to support its mission and goals. 
    • Developing consistent onboarding systems for board, staff, volunteers. 
    • Developing succession plans for key roles across the organization. 
  • Define and formalize organizational structures and practices. As the Collaboration seeks to mature as an organization, a variety of systems and processes require additional attention and refinement. That is why the Collaboration’s work also includes: 
    • Defining and formalizing structures and processes for key administrative functions, including Human Resources, Finance, Governance, and Development.  
    • Establishing communication feedback loops and Continuous Quality Improvement processes to allow for ongoing organizational self-assessment and refinements. 
    • Continuing to implement a collaborative and inclusive staff culture and documenting collaborative practices to inform organizational ways of working. 
    • Planning and monitoring the Collaboration’s budget with a cross-team approach. 
    • Assessing facilities and event space needs and developing a long-term plan, as needed. 

ENSURE FINANCIAL SUSTAINABILITY 🪙

  • Continue to be a good steward of the Intergovernmental Agreement (IGA) Contract for Early Childhood Services and demonstrate the continued value of its work.  The IGA is essential for the Collaboration’s continued ability to serve the Oak Park and River Forest communities. As the Collaboration seeks to attract new funding sources, it remains committed to prioritizing continued local delivery of quality programs and services, as well as continued data collection to inform local decision makers. The Collaboration will continue to keep IGA board members updated on the content and output of its work through annual reports and meetings, and conduct introductory meetings with new members, as they are elected, to maintain this critical partnership. 
  • Develop a detailed multi-year financial development plan, in partnership with the Development and Finance Committees, to diversify funding sources for the Collaboration’s work. The Collaboration will conduct a risk analysis of existing funding streams and use it to inform a strategic development plan that will be assessed and refined annually. The plan will be implemented by proactively seeking out opportunities, building relationships, and making proactive, concrete asks for new resources in a way that advances mission and is aligned with community needs and organizational capacity. Work will include identifying new and emerging philanthropic funding opportunities from foundations, corporations, businesses, and individual donors, as well as opportunities for new or expanded contracts for services with government agencies or other partners, including by leveraging the work emerging from current grant opportunities. The Collaboration will also explore creation of an Auxiliary Board of emerging community stakeholders as an engagement and fundraising arm of the Board of Directors. 
  • Define long-term financial sustainability measures through the Finance Committee to use as a benchmark for the Collaboration’s financial planning.  As the Collaboration continues to professionalize and mature as an organization, it will take steps to define appropriate measures to monitor and track its own organizational financial stability. 
  • Determine and document the cost of delivering key programs and activities. To inform planning and drive strategy and implementation, staff will document the cost of delivering certain programs and services. The assessment will be shared with the Board of Directors and potential funders and used to inform future cost estimating and budgeting.