CHA improves access to day care, early childhood education

As January 2009 approaches and the new work requirement for public housing residents looms, the Chicago Housing Authority is offering more help to residents seeking day care for their children.

The CHA's Tenant Services Committee voted yesterday to expand a $1 million contract with Illinois Action for Children, a day care and early childhood education advocacy organization whose caseworkers help CHA residents find daycare. 

Public housing residents often have trouble finding affordable child care because they have unique needs, says Maria Whelan, president of Illinois Action for Children.

“They might need non-traditional, odd hours of care,” Whelan said at yesterday’s meeting. “They would be working jobs that were weekends, that were nights, that were not the traditional Monday through Friday, 9-to-5 jobs.”

She also said that recently relocated residents or older residents, like grandparents taking care of young children, sometimes are not aware of daycare options in their neighborhood and need help findiing them.

Illinois Action for Children operates three walk-in facilities on the North, South and West sides of the city where residents can get help finding day-care and early childhood education options. The expanded contract will allow IAFC to start a mobile resource center to help reach more residents, officials say.

The organization also does home visits, where early childhood experts can help families learn new parenting strategies and connect them with service providers.

Yesterday, Whelan updated the committee on the organization’s progress. At the beginning of the contract in 2007, the organization set several goals, including making 900 home visits and 600 day care referrals. So far, they have made 1,403 home visits and 348 day care referrals.

Whelan says the home visits have been especially successful.

“Overall, families have been extremely welcoming,” she says. “In the last several weeks, we’ve done 425 visits and almost another 400 repeat visits – those are real relationships that are being built.”

Kellie O’Connell-Miller, assistant director of accountability and research at CHA, says the partnership with IAFC is an important part of making the Plan for Transformation a success.

“It’s key in helping our families toward self sufficiency and toward meeting the work requirement," O'Connell-Miller says.

The work requirement will go into effect in January 2009. All residents must  work at least 15 hours a week or show they are looking for a job or entering a job training or education program. CHA will make exemptions for those unable to meet the standards due to disability, domestic violence or parents with a child under the age of one.