Our Story

Why We Exist

Illinois Action for Children exists today because of the recognition that for parents to go to work and families to be self-sufficient, they need access to quality, safe, and affordable child care.

Despite the increase in early childhood services in recent years, there remains a significant number of families and children with no access to high-quality early learning programs. There is insufficient attention in the field to developing program models that engage families with the greatest needs and connect them to resources that can help. (Read more)

IAFC’s broad approach to supporting children by supporting families is a proven and effective means to addressing issues of endemic poverty and access to education. Our advocacy, programs, and services reduce the effects that poverty barriers create for parents and caregivers, and we partner with and strengthen center- and school-based programs to increase the high-quality program options for families.

By “Building Strong Families & Powerful Communities,” we are all united in our desire to see children succeed.

Our History

For more than 50 years, we have helped working families find child care and access early learning opportunities as we advocate for them. While the world is ever-changing, our commitment to children and families remains.

“What about the children?”

This was the question asked by Sylvia Cotton (1913–2008) that led her to start the Day Care Crisis Council of Metropolitan Chicago.

Sylvia was appalled by the lack of quality child care alternatives for working parents in our state, and specifically in Chicago. Conflicting regulations, inadequate funding, and virtually non-existent standards of care contributed to this dire situation.

It was 1969, and a small group of smart, politically active citizens came together to advocate on behalf of these working families and fight for better, more affordable child care options. Led by Sylvia, the Day Care Crisis Council evolved into what is now Illinois Action for Children (IAFC).

Emphasis on Action

Good public policy must be informed and shaped by those who are directly affected by it. IAFC evolved from reacting to crises to proactively addressing the issues that families and child care providers face.

Eventually, advocacy work was augmented by services to support parents and providers. Families that used our services became more engaged and interested in the issues. The strength of our impact grew as we built a community of engaged citizens advocating on behalf of all children and their families.

Success Serving the People

In the 50 years since Sylvia took her message of change to legislators, the media, and the streets of Chicago, her vision has grown into an organization that serves more than 75,000 children and 150,000 families statewide every month in a passionate effort to support parents in making the best choices for their children’s future success. (Read more)

Today, we are focused on the future. High-quality early care and education prepares the next generation of community leaders and learners. The simple question asked by Sylvia and a small group of committed citizens continues to inspire us and drive our work forward. With more than 400 employees and strong, diverse leadership, our response to that question make a difference every day in the lives of families and their children.

Celebrating 50 Years of Advocacy and Action

In 2019, Illinois Action for Children marked our Golden Anniversary with a year of celebration, culminating in our signature annual gala, A Night to Shine. Thank you to our donors, partners, providers, advocates, and families across Illinois for 50 years of improving outcomes for families and children.

Celebrating 50 Years (6:49)

Ira Glass Pays Tribute to Sylvia Cotton

Headshot of Sylvia Cotton

Sylvia Cotton founded the first organization in Illinois to advocate for child care providers while ensuring that quality child care was available to working families. Ira Glass of This America Life takes a look at her life and work.

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