Inside Gateways Newsletter—Spring 2012

Greeting from Gateways

Greetings and welcome to the spring edition of Inside Gateways, the Gateways to Opportunity quarterly e-newsletter!

It’s spring, and we are already overwhelmed with rampant election messaging as well as discourse over our upcoming Illinois FY13 state budget. The potential impact of our fiscal spending and of the multitude of budget decisions underway in Illinois is enormous and will ultimately affect everyone in our state. At every turn, data are used to support various positions. It is imperative that we are informed of data sources in order to talk knowledgeably about the impact that various decisions may have on children and families in our state.

In newspapers and on radio and TV, there is a bewildering array of frequently opposing information. However, one area of general consensus is that investments in early childhood pay off. We are fortunate that in our work with children and families it is generally recognized and accepted that investing in high-quality early childhood programs for children saves us money in the future. We are also fortunate that, both at a federal and state level, there is strong support for early childhood education.

In this issue of Inside Gateways, learn more about key data and information that are readily available to each and every one of us. The Illinois Early Childhood Asset Map (IECAM) provides Web-based access to a huge variety of data sets in an easily understood format. IECAM benefits all early childhood practitioners, and it can provide aggregate or geographic specific data across a broad range of variables for early care and education.

If you haven’t already obtained a copy of Investing in Opportunities for Children—Now, the Voices for Illinois Children annual Illinois Kids Count data report, be sure and get a copy! This fascinating and easy-to-read collection of data is a must-read to learn about gains and losses for children and families in the areas of education, health, and economic well-being.

The Gateways to Opportunity Registry is an important tool and resource for collecting workforce data. Information about our workforce can inform policies developed and promoted by key advocacy agencies, including Illinois Action for Children (IAFC). Voices, the Ounce, and IAFC track legislation and use data to promote policies that support children, families, and our workforce.

Consistent and clear messaging is critical during challenging economic times. We must all utilize early care and education data to better inform our legislators, the parents and families we serve, friends, and colleagues. Children cannot speak out for themselves—we must do it for them. Data can paint a picture of where we are, whether we are making improvements overall, or whether we are showing a loss. Become familiar with the array of data and information that is readily available—use it to promote consistent and clear messaging in our state. The future of Illinois depends on investments made today to support children.

Thank you for your work on behalf of children and families in Illinois.

Joni_Scritchlow_signature

Joni Scritchlow and
Your Gateways to Opportunity
Professional Development Team

Voices from the Field

This issue of Inside Gateways shares three perspectives on the role of data in shaping the early care and education and school-age and youth landscape in our state. We spoke with Joan Vitale from Voices for Illinois Children, Joellyn Whitehead from the Illinois Network of Child Care Resource & Referral Agencies, and Christine Robinson and Choua Vue from Illinois Action for Children.

Joan Vitale
Director of Special Initiatives, Voices for Illinois Children
 

 In today’s economic climate, public and private funders want to see the bottom line return of their investments in dollars and cents. We must continue to work on new and better ways to communicate our message that the future well-being of everyone in Illinois depends on investing in children today.

Inside Gateways (IG) talked to Joan Vitale (JV) at Voices for Illinois Children about their use of data to influence early care and education public policy in Illinois. Joan, Director of Special Initiatives at Voices, co-chairs the Early Learning Council’s Public Awareness Committee.

joan vitaleIG: Your mission statement says: “Voices for Illinois Children champions the full development of every child in Illinois to assure the future well-being of everyone in the state. We work with families, communities and policymakers on all issues to help children grow up healthy, happy, safe, loved, and well educated.” Can you talk about how data on children and families figures into that mission?

JV: The data we collect and analyze help us identify the areas we need to focus on—education, home visiting, children’s mental health, preschool, foster care—to name just a few. We then focus our advocacy on those areas where the greatest disparities in services exist.

IG: What kinds of data does Voices regularly provide to the public?

JV: Voices for Illinois Children is best known for producing the annual statewide Illinois Kids Count data book, which is informed by all of Voices’ work, and particularly the work of our Fiscal Policy Center. Illinois Kids Count is funded by the Annie E. Casey Foundation and measures the educational, social, economic, and physical well-being of children in our state. The county-level data in Illinois Kids Count help advocates across the state zero in on children’s needs in their county. This year’s Illinois Kids Count data book is titled “Investing in Opportunities for Children—Now.” The focus is critical as we face serious budget shortfalls at the state and federal levels. The report emphasizes that strategies for reducing budget deficits and promoting economic growth must include effective public investments in children.

IG: What lessons have you learned about the use of data over the nearly 25 years that Voices has been around? What works? What does not?

JV: Accurate data can provide a comprehensive view of children’s issues. In order for data to have an impact on funding and policy issues, they need to be promoted in multiple ways. At Voices, we take a multipronged approach to promoting our annual Illinois Kids Count data books. We promote the book through a statewide media launch. We engage our network of community leaders to host local press release events of Illinois Kids Count to highlight data relevant to their county and district. We then hold an Illinois Kids Count Symposium and Business Luncheon as a follow-up to the report’s release. This year’s Illinois Kids Count data book assesses the gains and setbacks for children and families in education, health and development, economic well-being, and other key areas. The panel of statewide experts at this year’s symposium included the president and CEO of Metropolitan Family Services, the president of Heartland Alliance, and the president and CEO of the Chicago Urban League. The speaker at the symposium’s business luncheon was James Heckman, an economics professor at the University of Chicago, who talked about how we can strengthen our economy with smart investments. This is an effective formula for us—annual publication of Illinois Kids Count, local press releases around the report, and a symposium discussion of the report’s implications.

IG: How does Voices address the wide range of critical issues facing children and families in our state—early childhood education, foster care, children’s mental health, education reform, and family engagement?

JV: We partner with other advocacy organizations such as the Ounce of Prevention and Illinois Action for Children (discussed elsewhere in this issue). We work together to find common messages that reinforce our collective advocacy efforts. Our network of community leaders around the state helps us educate local communities and build broad support for our issues.

We benefit from access to comprehensive data provided by the Illinois Early Childhood Asset Map (IECAM) (discussed elsewhere in this issue). IECAM’s data allow us to identify gaps in services and resources so we aren’t relying solely on anecdotal evidence, which was often the case in earlier years.  

We have come a long way in advocating for young children. Many more stakeholders recognize that children are a worthwhile investment. In today’s economic climate, public and private funders want to see the bottom line return of their investments in dollars and cents. We must continue to work on new and better ways to communicate our message that the future well-being of everyone in Illinois depends on investing in children today.

Joellyn Whitehead
Data and Research Director, Illinois Network of Child Care Resource & Referral Agencies
 

The interplay between staff education, training, and program quality is multifaceted. The Registry data will provide insights into that complex puzzle.

joellyn_whiteheadInside Gateways (IG) talked to Joellyn Whitehead (JW), Data and Research Director at the Illinois Network of Child Care Resource & Referral Agencies (INCCRRA), about the uses of the data collected by the Gateways to Opportunity Registry.

IG: In the spring 2011 issue of this newsletter and the fall 2009 issue, we discussed the growth of the Gateways Registry in Illinois and its benefits to practitioners and to trainers. In this issue, we’d like you to focus on the Registry’s use of aggregate data to inform child care policy in our state and nation. Describe the kinds of aggregate data that Registries make possible.

JW: The Gateways Registry provides data about the characteristics of the early care and education, school-age, and youth development workforce—demographic trends, wages and benefits, education levels, turnover rates—all of which can be looked at through different filters such as position (e.g., director, lead teacher) and type of care setting (e.g., family child care, Head Start). The Registry can also provide training trend data—what kinds of training are providers accessing most often. This information is especially helpful to professional development entities; their staff can compare the availability of training statewide and determine where gaps exist based on stated training needs.

IG: Can you provide an example of how Registry data influenced child care policy in other states that have had Registries in place longer than we have in Illinois?

JW: One example that comes to mind occurred in Connecticut a few years ago. Their licensing agency wanted to increase staff qualifications of those in early care and education settings and established a time frame for the new qualification requirements to go into effect. Connecticut’s Registry provided data about the existing workforce qualifications, which helped Connecticut’s licensing agency recognize that their timeline was unrealistic. As a result of the Registry’s data, the licensing agency extended the time frame for the staff qualification changes to be implemented.

IG: Gateways Registry membership has grown from 6,000 in the first year after the Registry was officially launched, 2009, to 14,000 members today. What have we learned about the early childhood workforce in the years since our Registry has been in place in Illinois?

JW: One of the most interesting things that we’ve learned is what it means when someone says they have “some college” but no completed degree. When we analyzed what Gateways Registry members mean when they indicate that they have “some college” on their Registry application, we found that about 44% of them have the equivalency of an associate’s degree. Fewer members, about 5%, have the equivalency of a bachelor’s degree. This has implications for college career counselors and for the Gateways Professional Development Advisement Program, which helps early care and education and school-age care practitioners plan and achieve career goals. It also has encouraged higher education institutions in our state to look at possibilities for converting disconnected coursework into a college degree.

IG: What other data sets do you anticipate we will have access to from the Registry in the coming years? How can this information be used to improve the professional preparation and working conditions of those who educate and care for our children and youth in Illinois?

JW: We have 14,000 Gateways Registry members today. We estimate that there are about 50,000 licensed program staff in Illinois and an additional 10,000 staff in Preschool for All programs. As we continue to gain more Registry members, we will have a stronger, more accurate source of wage and education data that can be aggregated. Compensation parity is one of the most critical issues in our field. Many public and private efforts are focused on addressing compensation. The Registry data can provide a good baseline of current salary levels and can help track progress as various compensation initiatives are implemented.  

Another opportunity in the next couple of years will come from linking the Registry data to program-related data from the state’s Quality Rating System (QRS) to examine how staff professional development affects a program’s quality rating. For example, compared to other centers, do centers with high QRS ratings have employees with higher levels of education, more training hours, and/or training that is more in depth than at a beginner/awareness level? The interplay between staff education, training, and program quality is multifaceted. The Registry data will provide insights into that complex puzzle.

IG: Do you think Registry data will play a central role in public policy at the national level?

JW: Yes, I do. The federal Office of Child Care is interested in workforce data and looks to state Registries as a source for these data. The first Registries started in the early 1990s. Today there are 31 registries in 30 states, 28 of which have a trainer or training approval process as we have in Illinois. The National Registry Alliance began more than 10 years ago to support states in the development and implementation of Registries. One product of the Alliance work is the establishment of best practices about the data that Registries collect. Illinois has been an active member of the Alliance, and I currently serve on its board of directors representing Region V (Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, and Ohio).

The National Registry Alliance’s stated vision complements the vision that we have for our state’s professional development system, Gateways to Opportunity. The Alliance’s vision reads:  “High quality, coordinated, documented, and accessible state career development systems to promote a well-trained and educated, supported, and adequately compensated early childhood and school-age workforce.”

Illinois Actions for Children
Christine Robinson
Director of Public Policy and Advocacy
Choua Vue
Assistant Director of Community Engagement   


 Our challenge in the coming months is to use our data to tell a compelling story, to demonstrate that cuts to child care and PreK will hurt children, families, and our economy… We encourage more center and family child care providers to participate in the Child Care Works Campaign so we can tell the broadest possible economic impact story.

christine_robinson chou_vueInside Gateways (IG) talked to two staff members at Illinois Action for Children (IAFC)—Christine Robinson (CR), Director of Public Policy and Advocacy, and Choua Vue (CV), Assistant Director of Community Engagement—about their organization’s use of data to shape the early care and education landscape in Illinois

IG: Illinois Action for Children supports children and families through public policy and advocacy, early learning programs, and child care resource and referral (CCR&R) programs. What kinds of data does IAFC collect and regularly provide to the public?

CR/CV: We collect and distribute census data, particularly data relevant to low-income families and children. We collect and distribute statewide data as well as data specific to Cook County and the Chicago metropolitan area. Because we are the Child Care Resource and Referral (CCR&R) agency for Cook County, we also collect child care assistance data and data on child care supply and demand. Our various reports are available in print and on our Web site.

In addition to the quantitative data, we do a variety of surveys that are often neighborhood specific. For example, we have conducted a door-to-door survey in collaboration with COFI (Community Organizing and Family Issues) targeting the north Lawndale neighborhood in Chicago, where we knew many 3- and 4-year-old children lived but were not attending child care settings. We wanted to find out where children were if they weren’t in child care centers, Head Start, or Preschool for All programs and why. Through our work, we have been able to focus on policy and program barriers that families face in accessing high-quality early care and education. We try to connect our data and research to our policy work so that the numbers tell a story and support our policy goals. For example, we have one-page community profiles that provide a data snapshot of what early care and education looks like by legislative district. The community profiles describe the demographics of children and families in each legislative district, the formal and informal child care options available, the cost of various kinds of care, and the number of families in that legislative district receiving child care assistance or being served by Head Start or the state-funded Preschool for All program. 

IG:
What impact has the child care supply and demand and community profile data had on policy makers, employers, researchers, and providers of care?

CR/CV: Our data are used by individual programs, legislators, grant funders, and state offices. The Illinois Department of Human Services sometimes requests our data to understand the fiscal impact of Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP) changes such as reimbursement rates and parent co-payments. We have always used research and data to advocate for improved services for children and families. In this era of “budgeting for results,” it is especially important for us to demonstrate the impact of public investments in child care—how child care dollars are being used in Illinois and what we get in return.

IG: Your Child Care Works Campaign (CCWC) is an effort to talk about child care economic impacts. Describe how it got started.

CR/CV: The CCWC was inspired by the director of Eyes on the Future, a child care center in Chicago. The director wanted to find a way to communicate to her legislators how her center contributed to the local economy. IAFC created a tool reflecting her ideas to give more child care providers a clear way to convey to others how child care helps the economy—how many parents are able to work or go to school as a result of a particular center or family child care program, how much income is generated by those families as well as by the employees of the child care program, and how many taxes are paid to local, state, and federal governments as a result of individual child care programs. All the CCWC data provided to IAFC is kept confidential and is only used to develop the final economic impact tool.

IG: What impact has the CCWC had so far? Have there been any unexpected outcomes?

CR/CV: Many child care professionals are accustomed to talking about the impact of high-quality child care on children’s development, but they haven’t had the language to talk about the economic impact of child care. The CCWC gives them the specific language and tools to talk about the economic impact of their business. Providers tell us that they find it very rewarding to talk about the economics of their business with the families in their care, with board members and funders, as well as with their legislators. It instills a sense of pride in their profession. This seems particularly true for family child care providers. We encourage more center and family child care providers to participate in the CCWC so we can tell the broadest possible economic impact story.

The governor released his budget proposal on February 22, 2012, and has promised significant budget cuts in programs and services to address our state’s serious budget deficit. Our challenge in the coming months is to use our data to tell a compelling story and to demonstrate that cuts to child care and PreK will hurt children, families, and our economy. We are fortunate in Illinois to have several sources of useful data—Illinois Early Childhood Asset Map (discussed elsewhere in this issue), Illinois Network of Child Care Resource & Referral Agencies, and the Illinois Department of Human Services—to complement the data that we collect at Illinois Action for Children. 

Lilian Katz: Reflections

lilian_katz_cropThe Benefits of the Mix

This issue of Inside Gateways focuses on the role of data in shaping the early care and education field. My reflections incorporate data from research about the benefits of mixed-age grouping in early childhood program settings.

During a recent visit to Chengdu, China, I met with preschool teachers who typically work with at least 40 children in a class. The children are there from 6:00 a.m. to about 7:00 p.m. daily. Not much about that can be changed at present. But one of the issues that came into our discussion was that all of the preschoolers were only children. In other words, none of them had any siblings, and that is true for most of their parents as well. So there were very few uncles and aunts or cousins in the children’s experience.

Observations and discussion with the directors and managers of the preschools reminded me of the important potential benefits of mixed-age grouping, especially for those children who have no experience of either younger or older siblings.

Research indicates several advantages of mixed-age grouping during the preschool years to children's social and intellectual development, as well as to the adults who care for them and teach them.

Social Benefits to the Children

Research indicates that children associate different expectations by age very early. Preschoolers will even modify their behavior when trying to comfort a baby versus trying to comfort a same-age peer. Even a 3-year-old assigns different attributes and behavior to a picture of a younger child than a picture of an older child. By about the age of four, children themselves feel pressure to match their same-age peers in many behaviors and abilities. Needless to say, this pressure often gives rise to strong competitive behaviors and early forms of one-upmanship!

Benefits of the Mix to Older Children

Many parents mistakenly believe that mixing the ages only benefits the youngest children. However, the benefits go both ways. For example, in mixed-age groups, older children more often exhibit leadership than the very same children show when they are among their same-age peers. Indeed, many older children who are not confident leaders in their own age group seem to feel less threatened and more confident in their leadership abilities when attempting to be leaders in mixed-age groups. They also engage in more help-giving, explaining, sharing, and teaching behaviors, and they show greater sensitivity to the complexities of group processes in an age-mixed environment. These are useful life skills to begin to develop.

Furthermore, in the mix, older children often facilitate the efforts of others rather than try to outdo or sometimes even thwart them! Here in the mixed-age context, they are providing models of positive social behavior that the next generation will be able to apply when their turn to be the elders comes.

In some cases, older children who have difficulty in regulating their own behavior improve when encouraged to help younger ones observe the rules of the group. Once teachers or caregivers ask such children to remind the younger ones about the rules, the older children seem to be better able to do so themselves. Of course, the caregivers and teachers may have to stay close by to help the older children resist the temptation to become heavy-handed sanctimonious law enforcers!

Children who are socially less mature than their own age-mates are less often rebuffed by the younger ones in the mixed-age group than by their peers in a same-age group. In this way, when the ages are mixed, these timid older ones have opportunities to practice and polish social skills with younger ones and thereby learn to use them with the greater confidence required for competent interaction with their own age mates.

Benefits to the Younger Children

In mixed-age groups, older children are encouraged and expected to help the younger ones. Younger children who are assisted by older ones will do the same in their turn when they are the seniors. Such early nurturing behaviors can and should be encouraged in preschools, not only because it is good for children in need of comfort and assistance, but also because it provides a model that the young recipients will use themselves. These help-giving and nurturing behaviors are life skills. Indeed, they are early forms of parent education! All through the growing years, children should have genuine opportunities to be nurturant and helpful to those around them who may need it.

In a mixed-age group, incidents are inevitable in which younger ones are denied access to activities, materials, or equipment for which they are not yet ready—either because they are too small or for other developmental reasons. When adults say to children something like, "You'll be able to do that next year when you are bigger, or stronger, or understand X better, etc." children are helped to learn to accept their limitations. Children shouldn't be misled into believing they can do anything they set their minds to—none of us can! Even adults sometimes need adult help in accepting their limitations gracefully.

    The Big Picture in Illinois

    Dawn Thomas, Associate Director of the Clearinghouse on Early Education and Parenting and IECAM Project Coordinator, discusses the kinds of and uses for early care and education demographic data provided by the Illinois Early Childhood Asset Map (IECAM) project.

    Dawn Thomas
    Project Coordinator, Illinois Early Childhood Asset Map

     dawn_thomasAccurate and timely early care and education data are necessary for decision makers in the state to be able to make funding and programming decisions for young children. IECAM provides a wealth of data that can be used to guide planning services for all young children and their families in Illinois.

    The Illinois Early Childhood Asset Map (IECAM) is a Web-based tool that provides users with a comprehensive picture of early care and education services in Illinois. IECAM was created in 2006 at the request of the Illinois Early Learning Council and is jointly funded by the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) and the Illinois Department of Human Services (IDHS). By combining up-to-date demographic information with early childhood program information from state agencies, Head Start, and private-sector child care, IECAM users are able to find data that can be useful in developing community needs assessments, grant request proposals, and other types of reports or press releases. IECAM users include Head Start directors, child care and Preschool for All (PFA) administrators, staff from regional Child Care Resource & Referral agencies, advocacy organizations, policy makers, legislators, and the general public. Although the vast majority of users come from Illinois, IECAM statistics show that a small percentage of users come from other states in the United States, Canada, Japan, and China.

    IECAM is intended (1) to assist policy makers in allocating resources for early care and education programs to areas where they are most needed, (2) to make public resource allocation transparent by showing the changes in funding of services from year to year, and (3) to provide a one-stop source for early care and education data gathered from multiple agencies in Illinois. This is accomplished by providing information on the capacity of existing services and the demographic characteristics of young children and their families in various geographic regions or units (e.g., counties, municipalities, legislative districts) of the state.

    IECAM presents data on early care and education services in both table format and—in the GIS (geographic information system) section of the Web site—in map format. These services are funded by federal agencies (which fund Head Start and Early Head Start), state agencies (which fund Preschool for All and Early Intervention), and private sources (which fund child care centers and family child care homes). IECAM also presents demographic data on the population, poverty level, linguistic isolation, race, and employment characteristics of families with children from birth through age 5. Thus IECAM provides a quick snapshot of where children live and the capacity of services available to them in those locations. 

    IECAM has expanded its database to include information on the quality of early care and education services, such as programs that are accredited by national accrediting organizations. As work continues on expanding the Quality Rating System in Illinois, it is anticipated that IECAM will also include such information. Additionally, IECAM has enlarged its database to include data from the Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP). Working in partnership with IDHS, IECAM is preparing to post information on school-age children and providers of school-age child care in the near future.

    IECAM produces occasional information products and reports, including the first Technical Report titled “The Impact of Publicly Funded Preschool in Illinois: An Analysis of Data from the Illinois Early Childhood Asset Map.” IECAM’s Snapshots of Illinois Counties provide brief summaries of demographics and early care and education data for each of the state’s counties. The first of a series of Quick Help Handouts has been developed offering users instructions on creating a standard report. Each of these handouts will feature instructions on finding and using data on the Web site. IECAM’s upcoming Data Reports will explain the meaning and use of various types of data obtainable from IECAM and elsewhere. As part of the Governor’s Office’s recent risk assessment effort, IECAM staff collaborated with Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago on a project to gather data related to risk factors for children and families in Illinois and to combine the data from seven different education and health domains into a composite risk index.

    IECAM is currently updating its collection of demographic theme maps, which visually represent various types of data by small regions. Current maps provide pictures of population, poverty level, and race. New maps will add such factors as housing, net worth, and parental education. IECAM is developing a version of its GIS page to work with Silverlight, a common Microsoft browser plug-in, to rapidly display map and other graphic data.

    Accurate and timely early care and education data are necessary for decision makers in the state to be able to make funding and programming decisions for young children. IECAM provides a wealth of data that can be used to guide planning services for all young children and their families in Illinois.

    New Gateways Resources

    The following resource links have been added to the Web site since the last issue of Inside Gateways. For other resources, go to www.ilgateways.com/en/resource-links.

    Advocacy Links

    Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP)

    A Tool Using Data to Inform a State Early Childhood Agenda

    Early Childhood, School-Age, and Youth Development Initiatives Links

    21st Century Community Learning Centers Federal Afterschool Initiative

    Heartland Equity and Inclusion Project

    Research Centers

    Illinois Early Intervention Clearinghouse

    Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute 

    Research Reports

    America’s Children, America’s Challenge: Promoting Opportunity for the Next Generation

    Building an Early Childhood Professional Development System

    Child Care: Like the Military, Is It Time for Shared Responsibility?

    Early Child Care and Education: HHS and Education Are Taking Steps to Improve Workforce Data and Enhance Worker Quality

    Evaluation of the 40-Hour Initial Pre-Service Training for Entry-Level Child Care Providers

    Instructional Coaching: Helping Preschool Teachers Reach Their Full Potential

    Preventing Childhood Obesity in Early Care and Education Programs

    Reaching Families Where They Live: Supporting Parents and Child Development through Home Visiting

    Workforce Information: A Critical Component of Coordinated State Early Care and Education Data Systems