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Early Childhood Education

Research shows that a child’s brain develops most rapidly between birth and the age of five. Babies begin to learn about the world around them almost immediately; and the bonds young children form with their caregivers and their first learning experiences deeply affect their future physical, cognitive, emotional and social development.

Caregivers who provide a loving and safe environment have a profoundly positive impact on a child’s brain development, ultimately providing them with a foundation to become healthy, caring and productive adults.

Exposure to child abuse, neglect or other trauma, including being removed from home and placed somewhere new, creates stress which interferes with a young child’s developing brain and damages their emotional well-being. DCFS provides an array of services and supports to young children who enter the child welfare system to help them grow, learn and thrive.

ExceleRateIllinois is a statewide quality rating and improvement system designed to make continuous quality improvement an everyday priority among early learning providers. The program establishes standards for helping infants, toddlers and preschool age children develop intellectually, physically, socially and emotionally. It provides a framework for early learning professionals to identify opportunities for improvement, increase their skills and take steps to make positive changes.

Per Procedure 314.70, DCFS has a joint collaborative agreement with Head Start/Early Head Start to place children under DCFS guardianship on a priority list. If there are no available openings our children rise to the top of the waiting list. To locate an Early Head Start or Head Start program click here.

Erikson Institute/DCFS Early Childhood Project
The Erikson Institute/DCFS Early Childhood Project was created to assure that all children in care aged birth to four receive developmental and social-emotional screenings to identify at-risk children and refer them to Early Intervention and mental health services as soon as possible. The project also works to support child welfare professionals by offering training and consultation around the needs of young children.

DCFS School Readiness Initiative
The DCFS School Readiness Initiative ensures that children in care aged three to five are enrolled in a quality early childhood education program so that they enter kindergarten ready to learn. The School Readiness team:

  • works with caseworkers to reduce or eliminate barriers to enrollment;
  • provides caseworkers with early education options;
  • assesses and identifies children receiving early intervention services;
  • assists with transition into an education program, and
  • tracks early childhood education enrollment data statewide.


Statewide School Readiness Team