Early Learning Coalition and Parenting Program Provide Crucial Supports to Promote Healthy Child Development on Chicago’s Far Southside
The Altgeld-Riverdale Early Learning Initiative established a community-based system to support the developmental needs of the youngest residents in the Altgeld-Riverdale community. Chapin Hall evaluated BPI’s Altgeld-Riverdale Early Learning Initiative and its two main components: the Altgeld-Riverdale Parenting Program, which supports the healthy development of infants and toddlers, and the Altgeld-Riverdale Early Learning Coalition, which is working to build a comprehensive community infrastructure to support early learning. We found both of these components to be critical strategies for positively impacting the lives of children and families in the Altgeld-Riverdale community.
What We Did
To examine the preliminary and perceived outcomes of the parenting program, researchers developed a multicomponent evaluation. They conducted an implementation study and an outcomes study of the Altgeld-Riverdale Parenting Program. The implementation study documented whether the parenting program was implemented as designed. For the implementation study, researchers also analyzed program service data, completed observations of home visits and parenting groups, and interviewed staff and stakeholders. The outcomes study measured preliminary outcomes and used four data sources: (1) data from comparable programs, (2) program data from Altgeld-Riverdale, (3) quarterly program reports, and (4) interviews with 11 participants.
To assess the impact of the Coalition, we interviewed and surveyed Early Learning Coalition members and surveyed community members. Both surveys were administered at two time points about 2 years apart.
What We Found
The outcomes study of the Altgeld-Riverdale Parenting Program revealed:
- The majority of parenting program participants were highly engaged, following their service plan, and appeared to have strong and trusting relationships with program staff.
- Participants highlighted that they found the program beneficial in reducing anxiety, learning how to safely soothe and bond with their children, and reducing their sense of isolation.
- Although staff reported receiving strong supervision, preventing burnout remained an issue.
Findings from the surveys of the Early Learning Coalition include:
- Coalition members reported that the most significant accomplishments of the Coalition were that it brings together community stakeholders and facilitates new partnerships.
- The community member survey found that the majority of respondents were familiar with most of the programs in the community at both times. Both familiarity and enrollment in Head Start programs significantly increased.
- Community respondents rated academic skills as the most important indicators of kindergarten readiness.
What It Means
The parenting program is an essential support for families with young children in the community. Recommendations for the program include furthering efforts to:
- support and acknowledge staff through strong supervision, reasonable caseloads, and appropriate remuneration;
- compare data to Best Standard Practices on an annual basis and engage in corrective action if performing below the benchmarks, for example by working to increase immunization rates;
- consider alternative transportation arrangements for parenting groups; and
- track early literacy data more consistently.
The Early Learning Coalition brings together service providers to focus on ways to improve children’s lives. The Coalition should continue its efforts for supporting early learning, including raising awareness about the importance of social-emotional learning in early childhood and holding early learning enrollment fairs. While the Coalition remains strong, specific strategies can help sustain its impact. These include:
- creating new subcommittees and associated leadership opportunities;
- regularly reviewing goals and tracking progress; and
- applying clear action plans and timelines.