Forty years ago a small group of smart, politically active women, led by our founder Sylvia Cotton, recognized significant changes in the structure of American families. Women were working outside the home - sometimes a choice, but more often a necessary response to crushing urban poverty. The question that Sylvia and her colleagues asked was: "What about the children?"
After a study on the state of child care in Chicago documented that a crisis did indeed exist, the Day Care Crisis Council of Metropolitan Chicago was created. The Council initially focused on Chicago, successfully advocating for a city Office of Child Development and stricter regulatory standards for both center-based and home-based care.
Over the next fifteen years, the Council grew and shrunk. When there was no staff, a committed Board stepped up and continued to focus on an agenda around city, state and federal issues. Sylvia retired and a series of talented men and women provided Board leadership. Our name became the Day Care Action Council of Illinois, with an emphasis on "Action."
In the mid 1980's, the Chicago Community Trust made a two-year grant ($35,000 in each year) to support the development of what became the Child Care Resource and Referral Program. This grant created fiscal stability that allowed a small staff to focus on long-term organizational development.
During the next decade, the Council grew and developed. Advocacy work was augmented by services to support parents and providers - helping parents locate and make informed decisions about child care, and helping providers improve practice. In 1996 the Day Care Action Council led a major re-organization of the state child care program. This work included a broad range of public, provider and advocacy partners. It resulted in a new articulation of Illinois' plan to implement welfare reform and to answer the question upon which we were founded: "What about the children?"
Illinois made several critical decisions as it developed its welfare reform program. Central to this approach was the idea that a lack of child care would never be a barrier to work. As long as a parent qualified for care in terms of income and employment, the care for their child would be available and affordable. The administration of this program became the responsibility of Child Care Resource and Referral providers across the state.
The Day Care Action Council became the lead provider in Cook County. The next ten years saw staff hired by the hundreds, our budget increasing exponentially, new facilities leased and renovated, new staff leadership and programs, and new approaches in terms of our Board of Directors. Our name changed to Illinois Action for Children to reflect our broader work and mission, with a continued emphasis on "Action."
As Illinois Action for Children has grown and developed, many things have changed: The world we live in; the ways in which families struggle; our communities; our city; our state; and our nation. Illinois Action for Children has changed from a small and nimble group of volunteers to a very large, complex and resolute organization. But our approach to the work we do has remained essentially the same. We know, and have known for the past 40 years, that at the end of the day, parents love their children and want them to be happy and healthy. Our job is to organize those dreams so that families are heard and their dreams become public will.