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Why invest in early childhood?
Research demonstrates that experiences during the critically important years from birth to age 5 have life-long impacts on educational achievement, income, and health.
OPRF High School has a direct interest in improving the quality of early childhood care and education of its future students, the large majority of whom grow up in River Forest and Oak Park. High-quality early childhood experiences raise high school student achievement — and save taxpayer dollars — by reducing the cost of special education and remediation and reducing the need for student discipline interventions.
Further, local taxpayers will also save on costs associated with substance abuse, crime, and poor health, concerns that have their roots in the early childhood years.
What is the Collaboration for Early Childhood, and is this a new effort?
In 2002, Oak Park's local governments (including the village, District 97, and District 200) saw the need to coordinate programs, foster high-quality care, and provide better information and support for young families.
They cooperated to form the Collaboration for Early Childhood, and all of them have provided annual support through contracts for services over the past 10 years. In 2009, OPRF and the Village of Oak Park contracted with the Collaboration to develop a plan for a comprehensive, integrated early childhood system.
What would this comprehensive system look like?
The components include a research-based, coordinated network of voluntary parent information and support available to all families, with more intensive services available to at-risk families.
In addition, the Collaboration would provide professional development for early childhood care providers; early detection screenings for vision, hearing, and developmental delays; coordination of local public preschool programs; and critical data-collection services.
The Collaboration has been able to implement only a portion of this system and is currently in discussion with the Village of Oak Park, D97 and OPRF High School to determine how to achieve full implementation.
Does River Forest benefit from the Collaboration?
River Forest child care providers and residents receive the same services as their counterparts in Oak Park.
The Collaboration provides staff training, support for directors, and an annual symposium. Resource directories and "Watch Me Grow: Developmental Milestones, Birth to 5," are distributed free of charge to all River Forest and Oak Park families with children under the age of 5.
The River Forest Community Center and the OPRF child care center benefit from intensive professional development services from the Collaboration, including social-emotional development screening resources. River Forest children enrolled in Oak Park preschools and child care centers this year received hearing and vision screening.
Collaboration staff will support all River Forest families who may qualify for the Preschool for All program in going through the screening process, and we will provide the same level of services to the at-risk children in River Forest as those contemplated for Oak Park children.
What is the budget for this program?
The budget for full implementation is $1.5 million, phased in over three years, less than 1 percent of the primary operating fund budget of each jurisdiction, supplemented by grants from foundations and individual donors.
As the first graph from Nobel economist James Heckman shows, investing in our children, age birth to 5, is the most efficient use of our tax dollars and yields a lifetime of potential benefits.
The second graph shows the relative lack of public financial support in our community for early childhood.
Taken together, the graphs demonstrate that if we want to invest our community's resources wisely and efficiently, there can be no better place than birth to age 5.
Visit www.collab4kids.org for more information.