Early-childhood efforts a key to success in life

As DuPage County state's attorney and a proud member of the executive committee of Fight Crime: Invest in Kids Illinois, I strongly support the wide-ranging value of early childcare and education as an important, yet underutilized, tool for reducing crime. I, along with 350 other Illinois law enforcement leaders throughout the state, am encouraged by research that unquestionably demonstrates the positive impact of high-quality early childhood programs that set our young learners on a path to lifelong success and away from the criminal justice system.

There are barriers however, including high costs, geographic proximity and stifling bureaucracy that often separate families from vital services. The unnecessary challenges resulting from multiple state agencies overseeing aspects of preschool, childcare and birth-to-five services are top of that list. Several years ago, I voiced my support for the Illinois Early Childhood Funding Commission, a bipartisan panel appointed by Gov. Pritzker charged with, among other things, creating a streamlined system to meet the needs of our children and their families.

The Daily Herald's recent editorial, "Governor's plan makes wise use of consolidation for early childhood education" promotes as a promising solution the governor's executive order consolidating three government agencies into a single new agency to reduce bureaucracy. I join Fight Crime members in whole-heartedly supporting this executive order. In the governor's new executive order, one of the first recommendations put forth by the commission does just that by removing the red tape and beginning the process of streamlining key early childhood programs under a single new department devoted exclusively to birth-to-five concerns.

As the editorial noted, "concentration on these early learners is clearly wise and it should not be disrupted by bureaucratic processes that can be hard to navigate or that get in each other's way." I would add that a more efficient administration of early childcare and education programs will not only bolster public safety but will also result in savings in the long run as we reduce costs incurred by crime and violence in our neighborhoods.

The cost of crime in the United States is staggering. A comprehensive study conducted by Vanderbilt University on the subject found that in 2017, more than 120 million crimes, 24 million of which were violent crimes, were committed in the United States amounting to a financial impact of $2.6 trillion. This figure represents the quantifiable, direct cost of crime such as funding by local, state and federal agencies to support the criminal justice system as well as financial losses sustained by crime victims.

While not quantifiable, indirect costs of crime such as physical and phycological harm, loss of investment in high-crime communities and increased social service needs in those communities is just as important.

The creation of a new state agency focused solely on birth-to-five services is an important step in developing the best possible system of support for Illinois families and communities while also benefitting all of Illinois through reduced crime and increased public safety.

• Robert Berlin, a Republican from Downers Grove, is DuPage County state's attorney.

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