Illinois Communities Are Driving Change for Children and Families Using Data

Erikson Institute’s Early Development Instrument Pilot Program connects community resources and early childhood development

When U.S. Senator Dick Durbin met with several community leaders in East St. Louis in late June to learn about community efforts to address the daily stressors such as poverty and violence that can cause trauma and compromise a young child’s ability to thrive, his timing was ideal for community leaders, including East St. Louis School District 189, East Side Aligned, and Children’s Home + Aid. These groups were among the many local leaders that recently recommitted to prioritize local early childhood programs put at risk by statewide budget issues and politics, and who are using a unique tool, piloted by Erikson Institute, in their efforts.

The Early Development Instrument (EDI) is a population measure that provides snapshot data on children’s health, development, and school readiness in the context of their neighborhood. This data can have a powerful impact. For example, EDI results from the 2016-17 school year confirmed the need to invest in early childhood programs and resources. EDI data was used in the Illinois’ early childhood block grant application, which resulted in nearly $6 million being allocated to School District 189 for preschool expansion—a $1 million increase from the last grant cycle.

“The Senator’s vast and global knowledge of systems, trauma, and Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) contributes to him being a champion in our community, supporting policies and practices that increase the odds for our most vulnerable children,” said Janice Moenster, Southern Region Director of Early Childhood Services for Children’s Home + Aid.

Evan M. Krauss, Director of East Side Aligned, added, “Erikson Institute has been a steadfast champion for child well-being within Greater East St. Louis. Our community has greatly benefited from their support. The meeting that Erikson staff recently arranged with Sen. Dick Durbin provided us a unique platform to share about both our pressing needs and promising initiatives. We particularly appreciated the senator’s keen understanding of trauma and its impact on kids.”

The visit from the senator is an example of how communities are using EDI data to draw attention to the developmental vulnerabilities children face in the area, and make the case for resource alignment and increased funding for early childhood programs and services.

Turning data into action

Erikson launched the three-year EDI Pilot Project in 2016 to help Illinois communities understand trends and patterns in child development and drive change to increase the chances of children reaching their greatest potential. The EDI was successfully implemented in East St. Louis, the City of Kankakee, the Village of Bradley, the Village of Bourbonnais, and the Village of Oak Park. The Village of Skokie/Morton Grove is slated for completion in 2019.

The EDI measures children’s holistic development in physical health and well-being, social competence, emotional maturity, language and cognitive development, and communication skills.

“By bringing the entire community together in support of young children, this initiative can truly ‘shift the curve’ for children and reduce disparities,” said Geoffrey A. Nagle, PhD, president and CEO of Erikson.

In July, in the Kankakee area, the Community Foundation of Kankakee River Valley was awarded a $200,000 planning grant from the Illinois Children’s Healthcare Foundation for the Children’s Mental Health Initiative 2.0.

The initiative enables mental and physical health providers, schools, parents, youth and other community organizations to develop a coordinated system of care for children and families. The grant application included EDI data that showed significant rates of vulnerability for children’s development in social competence and emotional maturity, which strengthened the case that environmental trauma and stress, anxiety, or depression can affect a child’s ability to meet their full potential.

Dismantling misconceptions

The EDI challenges assumptions by overlaying data onto community maps so local leaders can see, at a neighborhood level, where resources are needed and where existing initiatives are working well. In mid-May, Erikson held an inaugural EDI Summit where EDI partner communities learned from one another about using EDI data to inform community planning, align resources, and coordinate systems.

“Quite frankly, we thought the City of Kankakee would have the highest percentage of developmental vulnerabilities. However, that wasn’t the case. There are areas of vulnerability in Kankakee, but there are more strengths out there,” said summit attendee Tiffany DeRocco, executive director of the United Way of Kankakee and Iroquois Counties. DeRocco added that leaders in the Kankakee area are using the data to support several initiatives, including the latest community health assessment, and the creation of a trauma-informed school initiative.

In Oak Park, officials looked to EDI data to help determine the best location for a new housing development for families with limited economic resources.

“What they saw from the EDI map was that building in the initial location could isolate families from community resources. As a result, they began exploring other locations,” said Carolyn Newberry Schwartz, executive director of the Oak Park Collaboration for Early Childhood.

The beginning of a journey

The EDI Pilot Project is entering its third year, and Erikson plans to shift from piloting the tool to offering it to communities across Illinois on an ongoing basis, partnering with them to implement the EDI and to provide post-implementation support and resources to local leaders who can use the results to advance action.

The potential for widespread use of the data is why Erikson is developing ways to disseminate it, both within the current EDI communities and to leaders in other areas who might be interested in becoming EDI partners. With the launch of Erikson’s EDI website, everyone, from legislators and funders to parents and teachers, can see how the data are presented and how communities are using it.