Report | March 30, 2022

Improve Rural Illinois’ Early Childhood Offerings, Tackle a Range of Challenges

Law enforcement leaders say such investments would help address crime & poverty

Despite the relative peace and benefits of life in rural Illinois, it faces its share of challenges. Its poverty runs higher than in urban areas, and population rates are in greater decline. Educational disparities are pronounced in several regions, and the opioid crisis has taken a heavy toll.

Sadly, challenges in early care and education add to this mix, according to a new report from Fight Crime: Invest in Kids. For example, while 58 percent of Illinoisans live in a child care “desert,” the figure rises to 69 percent in rural communities — areas where there are more than three children under age 5 for every licensed child care slot, exacerbating local stresses on families.

Jerel Jones

Strong investments in young children’s learning and development can improve upon countless other aspects of a community’s well-being, too — including public safety

Chief Jerel Jones, Macomb Police Department

The report emphasizes that it’s critical that we improve upon the access and quality of early childhood opportunities in rural Illinois. Doing so would put downstate communities in better position to address these other troubles — and, law enforcement leaders add, boosting these opportunities would have the added benefit of helping to curb crime and violence.

“Strong investments in young children’s learning and development can improve upon countless other aspects of a community’s well-being, too — including public safety,” said Police Chief Jerel Jones of Macomb, in west-central Illinois. The Rural Illinois & Early Childhood Challenges report illustrates this point by citing extensive research on the many benefits of high-quality early care and education.

Increasing such investments would bolster programs’ access, quality, and equity, as the state’s bipartisan Early Childhood Funding Commission has envisioned. Among other things, the Commission’s study and recent recommendations called for resolving early childhood inequities that reflect racial, socio-economic, and geographic disparities — including transportation barriers and other challenges of downstate Illinois.

Brandon Zanotti

Rural Illinois’ pressing challenges include a shortage of the quality, accessible child care options that our kids and families need in order to thrive.

Brandon Zanotti, Williamson County State’s Attorney

The Commission found that only about half of Illinois’ young children in low-income families are receiving the early care and education services that could help them.

Fight Crime members have consistently expressed support for the Commission’s vision of greatly strengthening the resources and governance of Illinois’ birth-to-5 supports. They hope their new report will help state policymakers take the next steps to better ensure the safety and well-being of young children, their families, and communities statewide.


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