$250,000 grant funds collaborative study on access to early childhood education in Illinois

Child drawing with crayons

The UIC research team hopes that the study’s findings bring to light the multiple ways families navigate exclusions and transitions

In 2018, Illinois passed one of the most expansive and progressive pieces of legislation (IL PA 100-0105) that aimed to reduce expulsions from early childhood education and child care programs.

The legislation requires programs funded by the Illinois State Board of Education or licensed by the Department of Children and Family Services to make every possible effort to retain a child. The use of any and all available resources, services and interventions must also be documented by care providers.

While most research on preschool expulsion uses data collected from administrators and teachers, early childhood researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago plan to obtain new perspectives on the matter with feedback from families who are living with the effects of their child’s expulsion.

Backed by a two-year, $250,000 grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, co-principal investigators Sarai Coba-Rodriguez and Kate Zinsser will examine the extent to which families experience the planned transition process included in the legislation; whether and how transition and exclusion practices vary by geographic region, program, family and child characteristics; and how families make new care arrangements and the extent to which those arrangements compare with regards to access, affordability and quality to the original excluding programs.

“More than half of Illinois residents live in regions labeled ‘child care deserts’ because there is such scarcity in licensed early care and education programs,” said Zinsser, associate professor of psychology and principal investigator at the Social-Emotional Teaching and Learning Lab at UIC. “Unfortunately, even if a family can find and afford care, there is no guarantee that their child will be welcome to stay in that arrangement long-term.”

According to the researchers, Latino families are the most affected by the scarcity of child care in Illinois, while on a national level they note excluded children — those who have been expelled, suspended, or otherwise forced out of care — are disproportionately black and male.

The UIC research team hopes that the study’s findings help inform policymakers, programs and family advocates about the multiple ways families navigate exclusions and transitions.

“By clarifying what barriers families face and support they utilize while trying to access affordable, high-quality care following an exclusion, we will be able to make recommendations about where and how to increase service allocation for low-income families,” said Coba-Rodriguez, UIC assistant professor of educational psychology.

In 2019, Zinsser and researchers at UIC conducted a preliminary investigation of Illinois early childhood programs’ current and prior expulsion practices, in addition to program managers’ understanding of and responses to the new law.

Their report showed administrators had varying levels of knowledge about the law, comfort and confidence complying with stipulations, perceived benefits and unintended consequences, as well as historic and expected disciplinary procedures and prior experiences and barriers accessing evidence-based resources and supports.

About the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

For more than 45 years, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has worked to improve health and health care. The Foundation works alongside others to build a national “Culture of Health” that provides everyone in America a fair and just opportunity for health and well-being. For more information, visit www.rwjf.org. Follow the Foundation on Twitter at www.rwjf.org/twitter or on Facebook at www.rwjf.org/facebook.