Childcare Network of Evanston to expand programs for impoverished families

Julia Jacobs, Summer Editor

The Childcare Network of Evanston plans to expand its program to help impoverished families care for their children after receiving millions of dollars in grant money in the past month.

The local child care service agency will be able to expand eligibility for home visits to financially unstable families just above the poverty line after being awarded $8.5 million over five years from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and $140,000 over two years from United Way of Metropolitan Chicago.

Oftentimes families lose child care support from the federal and state government when they rise above the federal poverty level, said CNE’s executive director Andrea Densham. The funding from United Way in particular will provide services to families just above that benchmark, Densham said.

“We’re going to be able to expand the width and breadth and the types of families that we’re able to serve, making sure that we don’t simply have a cycle where you get to 100 percent of poverty, you fall off and then you go back down again,” she said. “Our goal and our hope is to be able to reduce the number of times people have to prove that they’re poor.”

The organization’s home visits — which cover the families of 144 children living in Evanston, Skokie and areas of Morton Grove — include in-home discussions about the progress of the child’s development, in which CNE ensures the family has the supplies it needs for proper child care.

The federal grant money will also expand CNE’s age range for early childhood education and family support services: Instead of the programming serving children from prenatal to 3 years old, it will now be available to children through kindergarten.

Densham said the federal grant and private funding from United Way give CNE a much-needed financial boost after Gov. Bruce Rauner reduced funding at the beginning of July for child care for low-income families. During a time where state resources for child care services are diminishing, CNE sought help from other sources to keep members of the community out of the cycle of poverty, she said.

The executive director said she has been working for years with colleagues across the country to find the best methods for early childhood education to leverage the resources they have in the most efficient way. Taking a lead from the latest scientific research, CNE emphasized the method of enriching children’s lives through collective impact in the home in both grant applications, Densham said.

“There’s a high rate of return when we don’t simply help the children but we also help their families,” she said. “Home visiting in particular has an amazing capacity to do multi-generational work while providing high intensity services to children in low-income families.”

Penni Raphaelson, senior program manager at United Way North-Northwest, said CNE’s application stood out because of the organization’s partnerships with other human services agencies in Evanston. If CNE’s home visitors identify acute issues within the family, such as housing insecurity or unemployment, the organization ensures the parents find support for necessary services in the community.

“When a family is receiving services through CNE, if there are needs that arise during those services they’ll be connected to other agencies in their community to get those services,” Raphaelson said. “It won’t just be a phone number they’re given but actually a connection.”

Evanston/Skokie School District 65 received more than $13 million in federal money this month to use over the next five years for its preschool programs and other early childhood services. Superintendent Paul Goren said the grant will go towards programming as well as new staff to oversee the services, leaving $250,000 to $300,000 to address budget deficits from upcoming state cuts.

This post was updated to include Superintendent Paul Goren’s comments.

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