A host of local law enforcement leaders paid a visit on Thursday to an early childhood program in Addison to honor the leadership of retiring State Sen. and former Elmhurst Police Chief John Millner.
DuPage County State’s Attorney Robert Berlin, DuPage County Sheriff John Zaruba, Addison Police Chief Tim Hayden and Hinsdale Police Chief Bradley Bloom were on hand for the presentation of the Champion for Children Award to Millner.
DuPage County law enforcement leaders are all members of Fight Crime: Invest in Kids Illinois. On Thursday, the organization acknowledged Millner’s long-time dedication to early childhood education. Prior to joining the General Assembly in 2005, Millner was the police chief in Elmhurst. In that capacity, he was one of the founding members of Fight Crime: Invest in Kids Illinois. He served as co-chairman for three years.
“Helping at-risk children get the right start in life is an effective way to prevent future crime and is in the best interest of all our children and our communities,” Zaruba said. “Senator Millner has put that vision front and center for many years, first as a police chief and then in the General Assembly. Thank you, Senator, you are a true Champion for Children."
Early learning does make a difference, said Theresa Nihill, executive director of Metropolitan Family Services DuPage, the county’s new lead Head Start agency.
Last April, the US Department of Health and Human Services selected Metropolitan Family Services, working in collaboration with local school districts and community providers, to provide early childhood services to 629 families across DuPage. A federal grant of $4.7 million supports Head Start services for 3 to 5 year olds, and a grant of $1.2 million funds Early Head Start programs for children from birth to age 3.
“People aren’t as aware that child poverty has more than doubled in DuPage the last 10 years," Nihill said. "We’re working with our schools and communities to ensure Head Start is available where it is needed most. Since needs are even greater than available resources, partnering with Fight Crime: Invest in Kids is a great opportunity.”
Fight Crime: Invest in Kids Illinois has more than 300 members, and is the state office of a national nonprofit, bipartisan, anti-crime organization of more than 5,000 police chiefs, sheriffs, prosecutors, leaders of law enforcement organizations and victims of crime.
Millner (R-28th, Carol Stream) and State Reps. Dennis Reboletti (R-46th, Elmhurst) and Michael Connelly (R-96th, Naperville) joined Berlin, Zaruba and the police chiefs to discuss law enforcement’s support for expanding the availability of quality early childhood programs.
“DuPage County’s preschools have taken a big hit over the past few years, and that concerns me,” Berlin said. “I’ve spent many years supervising juvenile delinquency courtrooms, and I know from experience that we have to reach kids long before they come through the justice system."
The group read to a classroom of children enrolled in the Head Start program at Ardmore School in Addison.
Between Head Start and state-funded preschool, DuPage County is only reaching about one of every five young children in families that cannot afford a quality program without some help, according to a press release from Fight Crime: Invest in Illinois Kids. This leaves more than 10,000 3- and 4-year-olds without access to either Head Start or state-funded preschool in DuPage County alone.
A study of the Perry Preschool in Michigan tracked at-risk children who attended the program and similar children who did not attend. At age 27, adult non-participants were five times more likely to have been arrested for drug felonies and twice as likely to have been arrested for violent crimes. Another study of the publicly funded Child-Parent Centers in Chicago found that kids left out of the program were 70 percent more likely to have been arrested by age 18 than those who participated.
"Research clearly shows us that kids who have a quality early childhood education will be far less likely to end up on the wrong side of the courtroom later in life,” Berlin said.