From 1999 to 2003, staff from the Chicago-based Ounce of Prevention Fund, a public-private partnership focused on early childhood, planned and supported the Birth to Three Project, a cross-agency service integration initiative serving expectant families and those with young children in Illinois, to improve the comprehensive health and development of very young children.
Growing understanding of the importance of nurturing and successful parenting in early childhood has generated substantial new support for programs to work with families with very young children.
In the mid-1990s, for instance, Illinois allocated $24 million in new funding for Birth to Three programs and increased funding for child care services by $110 million, according to the Ounce of Prevention Fund. Despite these added resources, the Ounce of Prevention Fund noted service gaps, barriers to access, lack of coordination and insufficient training for those serving families with young children.
According to the project director, the initiative contributed to the following changes in early childhood development programs in Illinois:
- The state workgroup compiled an inventory of programs serving young families.
- Illinois established a statewide professional development system for the early childhood field.
- Illinois drafted and released a statewide strategic plan to address the mental health needs of young children.
- The Illinois Department of Public Aid expanded the number of developmental assessment tools that are reimbursable under Medicaid, and revised its developmental assessment guidelines to encourage greater use of developmental assessment by pediatricians and family physicians. Government agencies and health provider associations launched statewide training initiatives on developmental screening for young children.
- The Illinois State Board of Education developed learning standards for early childhood education programs.