MACOMB – Families in west-central Illinois will receive new support from the Regional Office of Education #26 through a new state grant one official calls a “dream come true” for early childhood education.
ROE26’s IRIS Community Collaboration is receiving $62,000 to serve families in its four-county area: Fulton, Hancock, McDonough, Schuyler Counties. The funding is part of the state’s Birth to Five Illinois program, which is issuing $575,000 to serve families in 22 counties this year to help support families in early childhood education programs.
ROE26 applied for the grant last fall, citing great need for these support services throughout the region. Families with young children in this largely rural area need early intervention providers, autism evaluation and therapy, and other mental health and specialized medical services that are in short supply.
Kids’ Count Data Center estimates child poverty in the four counties tops the statewide rate of 15.6 percent. Children and families here also struggle with food insecurity, homelessness, unemployment, teen births, low high school graduation rates, and drug and alcohol addiction.
ROE26 officials note this one program cannot solve all of those problems, but the new level of care and support will make a difference. The existing Early Beginnings program has partnered with area child care centers and 17 school-based early childhood programs to provide developmental screenings for children age birth to three.
The new ROE26 IRIS Community Collaboration will create a streamlined intake and referral system, to help local early childhood education and social service agencies better coordinate the care and support they’re providing area children and families and improve communication to better meet the families’ needs. The program will include an emphasis on racial equity, helping minority families navigate hurdles to receive their services.
The grant money will cover the costs of staffing, equipment, mileage, administration and services provided.
Program leaders say the grant will turn the nightmare of sorting through local services into an ideal collaboration among local agencies.
“After 20-plus years of working in some capacity of the social service field, receiving this grant is like a dream come true,” said Mandy Kreps, ROE26’s co-director of the new program. “Once implemented it will allow us to search for resources within the ROE 26 region, make a referral and see if that referral was accepted. We couldn't be more excited to get this process going.”
“As the director of Early Beginnings, a program that relies heavily on referrals, I was beyond excited to learn of a way to streamline the process of receiving referrals and providing referral sources with updates,” said Christine Nicholson, program director for Early Beginnings in ROE26. “IRIS will be a valuable tool to ensure that families are matched with the appropriate resources in a timely and consistent manner. In writing for funding from Birth to Five Illinois to create the ROE26 IRIS Community Collaboration, our vision is to link agencies providing these needed services across the four counties with the goal of improving enrollment and retention in early childhood education programs and agencies that provide services for community members.”
ROE26 Regional Superintendent John Meixner said receiving the grant is an exciting commendation of the great work his early childhood education team has been doing to support local families for years.
“We often talk about Championing Our Community because we do not deal with students alone. Their families need support and help as well,” Meixner said. “I am proud of my team for pursuing this state grant to expand our successful outreach into our four-county region. I know the families here who need this help will greatly benefit from our IRIS Community Collaboration and the care our team brings to the people we serve every day.”