Two Illinois communities selected for new Erikson pilot program to assess child development before kindergarten

The pilot program will make use of a unique research tool to support advocacy efforts for young children and their families.

Kankakee County and East St. Louis are located 250 miles apart in different regions of Illinois, but they share a common interest and recent track record in making strategic investments to foster a strong foundation for wholistic support of young children and their families.

Early childhood leaders in both communities are eager to participate in a pilot program led by Erikson Institute to equip Illinois communities with a data collection tool for measuring child development at a neighborhood level. The data, along with Erikson’s support, will enhance existing community-led efforts that contribute to more effective early childhood policies, systems, and funding.

East Side Aligned parent organizer KeKeisha Beasley and her family

East Side Aligned parent organizer KeKeisha Beasley and her family

The project – the first of its kind in Illinois – will utilize a validated research tool known as the Early Development Instrument (EDI) that has been reliably used for more than a decade in Canada and Australia and more recently across more than 50 communities in the United States.

Information gleaned through the project will offer a unique glimpse of how nearly 1,000 children are faring in physical health, social competence, emotional maturity, language and cognitive development, and communication skills within the context of the two communities. Results are reported not on individual children, but at the population level.

Erikson selected two early childhood coalitions to participate in the pilot project. The Success by 6 Coalition of Kankakee County is an early childhood initiative focused on school readiness in partnership with the United Way. However, it lacks data on social, emotional, and mental health to justify critical services and interventions, says Tiffany DeRocco, Executive Director of United Way of Kankakee and Iroquois Counties.

“Our vision is that the survey would not be an end result, but a catalyst to direct funding and form programs that will better prepare every child in our community to enter school ready to succeed, and to continue to succeed thereafter,” DeRocco says.

In the southwestern part of the state is Greater East St. Louis, where early childhood coalition members say new information from the EDI will complement census and program data to improve services to children and families.

“We hope the new data will help us be more effective in our early learning approaches as we strive to align policy, practice, and investments that lead to greater family and child outcomes,” says Evan Krauss, East Side Aligned Director and coalition member.

Generously funded by the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, the pilot project holds much promise for communities, says Cornelia Grumman, the foundation’s Education Program Director. “Our hope for this work is that the accessible, actionable information generated by the EDI will better surface the specific needs of children in a particular Illinois community, and then galvanize all the child-serving entities in that community to work together to address those needs,” she says.

The McCormick Foundation has been a longtime supporter of Erikson’s groundbreaking work in the field of early childhood and will support expanding the pilot project to include four additional communities in the spring. Erikson will issue a second Request for Participation in 2017 to determine the additional participants.

“The added value of looking at child development by neighborhood complements existing early childhood assessments and has the opportunity to mobilize communities and schools to wholistically address the needs of young children and build upon their strengths,” said Cristina Pacione-Zayas, Director of Policy at Erikson Institute. “Our two pilot communities are poised to take advantage of the tool because of their well-established coalitions. Our hope is that the project takes their work to the next level.”

The Early Development Instrument is implemented in kindergarten as a way of assessing child development before children reach school. Data is collected from a 103-question checklist completed by kindergarten teachers for all children in their classrooms. Importantly, no data is ever reported on individual children or teachers.