Preparing youngsters for kindergarten from a young age is part of the mission of Maggie’s Place Childcare & Learning Center in Waukegan.
For educating many of them, the school gets a boost from Illinois’ Child Care Assistance Program.
“It helps working parents who could not put their children in day care without it,” said Maneshia Young, the director of Maggie’s Place, where approximately 90% of the families receive some financial childcare assistance from the state.
The Illinois Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP) currently provides financial assistance to working parents or those going to school throughout Illinois, giving a boost to both parents and their children.
Danette Connors, the chief youth and family potential officer for the YWCA of Metropolitan Chicago who works closely with the state to help administer CCAP, said the more than 1,400 Waukegan families and over 200 from North Chicago alone benefit from the program.
“We make sure families are aware of the program,” Connors said of the YWCA’s role. “Children benefit from a good environment. We want to make sure they have the additional resources they need. We want them to have good education outcomes.”
Young said she works with children as young as a few months old through age 12. The CCAP has brought more families from Waukegan, North Chicago and Beach Park to Maggie’s Place over the past few years.
“They learn through play. They learn to get along with each other. We want to make sure they are kindergarten-ready,” Young said about the goal for the younger children. “We’ll help them with their homework,” she added referring to the older youngsters.
Mike Garner-Jones, the interim bureau chief for the Bureau of Subsidy Management for the Illinois Department of Human Services, which operates CCAP, said families in a variety of circumstances are eligible.
“You must be working, going to school, looking for work or looking to enroll in school,” Garner-Jones said. “We have services for homeless families. There are different ways to meet our criteria.”
Garner-Jones said family income must be at or below 225% of the federal poverty level. A two-person household can earn no more than $41,196 a year, a family of three’s income cannot exceed $51,816 annually and a family of four must not make more than $62,436 a year.
Families must also pay some of the cost. Garner-Jones said there is a sliding scale based on income, but no one pays more than 7% of their earnings for childcare. For people who are homeless or earn at or below the poverty level, the cost is $1.
Families participating in CCAP are approved for one year. Garner-Jones said children must be under 13, or under 18 if they have special needs. As long as the youngsters do not reach their 13th birthday, or 18th if there are special needs before the end of the year, they can be renewed for another year.
Though licensed day care centers and preschools are a major part of the program, Garner-Jones said private businesses which offer day care, and even individuals like a grandparent, can provide day care through CCAP.
Nonlicensed childcare providers must pass a background check, as well as health and safety requirements approved by the Department of Children and Family Services, such as knowing how to administer CPR, Garner-Jones said.
Connors said women left the workforce during the coronavirus pandemic in greater numbers than men. During that time, they were focused on childcare. Now women are not going back to work as quickly as men. CCAP can help change that.
“We want to help women get back into the workforce,” Connors said. “Lake County was harder hit (during the pandemic) because there are so many essential workers there.”