Gains reported in early childhood support

Collaboration touts hike in screenings, access to resources

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By Michael Romain

Staff Reporter

Four years after three taxing bodies in Oak Park pooled funding together to create the Early Childhood Collaboration, more young children are getting hearing and vision screenings, more families with young children are getting paired with early childhood resources, and professional development among local early childhood educators and caretakers has dramatically increased, according to collaboration data. 

Carolyn Newberry Schwartz, the collaboration's executive director, presented the data during a Nov. 28 Early Childhood Collaboration tri-board meeting, held at Oak Park and River Forest High School. Since the collaboration's founding in 2013, officials from Districts 97 and 200, and the village of Oak Park, have met quarterly to discuss the organization's progress.

 "We have strong infrastructure in place and we have a lot of momentum to drive deeper changes to ensure that each one of our youngest residents has a strong start in life," said Schwartz. 

She said that since 2014, the percentage of childcare centers participating in the state's quality rating system, which measures how effective they are at delivering services, has jumped 22 points, from 21 percent to 43 percent. 

The professional development hours and credentials earned by early childhood professionals have increased, with the most prominent gains happening among childhood professionals who hold early childhood professional credentials or licenses. In 2015, 68 percent of Oak Park area professionals had either credentials or licenses. This year, 92 percent do. 

In 2013, according to the collaboration's data, no children were receiving developmental screenings. The number jumped to 1,021 in 2015 and to 1,806 in 2017. This year, 30 sites participated in the screenings, up from zero in 2013. 

Similarly, the number of children receiving hearing and/or vision screenings jumped from 1,100 in 2013 to 1,400 in 2017. And the number of sites participating in those screenings increased from 26 in 2013 to 38 in 2017. 

Schwartz also said that the collaboration's ability to monitor the development of young children in the Oak Park area has increased dramatically. In 2015, the collaboration, with the help of the University of Chicago, implemented a unified early childhood database.

As Wednesday Journal reported at the time, the database "would give early childhood service providers something like a real-time, three-dimensional map detailing the collective well-being and needs of Oak Park and River Forest's children, age 5 and under."

According to Schwartz's report, "Data quality has improved tremendously in both the accuracy of the data collected and the amount we have access to (i.e. there was a 74 percent increase in the number of children who took an important preschool assessment due to our diligence with both data collection and coaching/mentoring)."

Schwartz said that the collaboration's capacity to provide home visiting services to vulnerable families also increased, with the number of families enrolled in the home visiting services jumping from 30 in 2014 to 86 in 2017. 

CONTACT: michael@oakpark.com  

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