Continued Efforts to Dismantle System Barriers Must Persist
The wellbeing of Black children, ages 0-18, in Illinois ranks below national averages according to the recently released 2024 “Race for Results” report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation. This finding must accelerate our state’s efforts to invest in young children’s wellbeing. As a graduate school for early childhood, Erikson Institute partners with many stakeholders to urge decision-makers to continue investing in young children and addressing inequity, especially where systemic and structural racism is at play.
Illinois has seen historic investments recently through Illinois’ Smart Start initiative, which secured a nearly $300 million increase in state-funded early care and education support programs. While significant, the effects of these investments are incremental. A 2021 cost model for the State of Illinois1 revealed that a fully funded early childhood system, ensuring every child receives what they need to thrive, requires a $14B investment.
The ”Race for Results” report emphasizes that disparities in current and historic policies have impacted the wellbeing of children of color, especially in the Black community. The COVID pandemic and the social justice movements in the last few years have also magnified the fragility of our early childhood system and underscored the culminating injustices that have metastasized in our systems. The report is a reminder of the need to continue pursuing, with vigor, the dismantling of barriers fueled by structural racism that have abetted the historical disinvestment in Black communities.
Children grow in relation to the people who nurture their development (parents, caregivers, siblings, educators, etc.) and their environment. Restitution means centering Black children and families and their access to healthcare, financial stability resources, and early care and education, especially during the first five years of life when a child’s brain is at its most rapid development.
We also must acknowledge that more than half of Illinois’ early childhood workforce consists of Black and Brown women. 2 They are tasked with providing care and educating our young children, yet they are not paid livable wages, which contributes to roadblocks to provide for their own families and/or advance their careers in the field.
The reimagining of our fragmented systems implores us to have pointed conversations about the prevalence of racism, a critical lens to uncover the root causes of issues, and the foresight for long-term solutions resulting in racial equity. Erikson is committed to driving these conversations and building knowledge on child development and racial equity practice to focus on equitable, child-centered policy change.
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