Welcome to the Children Services Division (CSD), which is a division of the City of Chicago’s Department of Family and Support Services (DFSS). We are dedicated to helping Chicago’s youngest residents make the most of their lives and potential. Our mission is to work with community partners to connect Chicago residents and families with resources that can build stability, support their well-being, and empower them to thrive.  We administer the City of Chicago’s Early Childhood funding for community-based early learning programs. This includes the federally funded Head Start and Early Head Start as well as the State-funded Preschool for All, Prevention Initiative, and Child Care programs.

Find out more about our programs and enroll!

Chicago’s Head Start History

The City of Chicago has been a Head Start grantee since the program’s inception as part of the War on Poverty. A 1965 City Ordinance set up the Chicago Committee on Urban Opportunities (CCUO) as the local Poverty Council, Community Action Agency, and governing board for the City’s War on Poverty programs. At this time, the city remained the fiscal and administering agency for those programs, including Head Start.

The City Head Start and other anti-poverty programs were made available through a network of delegate agencies embedded in the neighborhoods of Chicago. This model of program delivery has worked well within the unique neighborhood culture of Chicago, so much so, that Sargent Shriver, the original director of the Federal Office of Economic Opportunity, commented at the time that Chicago had a model program. Later research into the administration and delivery of Community Action Programs acknowledged that, in comparison to other large cities such as Detroit, New York City, Los Angeles, and Philadelphia, Chicago’s was distinguished by both its bureaucratic efficiency and fiscal integrity.

For a comparative analysis of the implementation and effect of War on Poverty programs in five major American cities, including Chicago, see J. David Greenstone and Paul E. Peterson’s Race and Authority in Urban Politics: Community Participation and the War on Poverty (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1973).

Currently, DFSS administers and manages the Head Start program on behalf of the City through a network of delegate agencies that provide all program models.

Chicago Committee on Urban Opportunity

The Chicago Committee on Urban Opportunity (CCUO) services as the governing body for the City of Chicago’s Head Start grant.  Executive authority and ultimate responsibility for the Head Start program lies with the government of the City of Chicago: The Mayor and City Council.  A 1965 City Ordinance set up the CCUO as the local Poverty Council, Community Action Agency, and governing board for the City’s War on Poverty programs, while the City remained the fiscal and administering agency for those programs, including Head Start.

The CCUO oversees the City’s Head Start and Community Services Block Grant (CSBG) programs.  The Committee consists of three types of members: one third must be public elected officials, one third must be representatives of private organizations, and one third must be representatives of the poor.  Membership may run from 15 to 51.  Included in the CCUO is at least one Head Start parent (the current Citywide Parent Policy Council Chairperson), a member with expertise in early childhood education, a member with fiscal expertise, a member who is a practicing attorney, and a member from the City Council’s Committee on Education and Child Development and a member from City Council’s Committee on Social Services.  The chairperson ex-officio of the CCUO is the Mayor of Chicago who appoints the 1st vice-chairperson who, in turn, presides over the CCUO in their absence.

The Mayor makes appointments to the CCUO based on the recommendations of its Nominating Committee. Find the CCUO Meeting Calendar below.

Head Start Annual Reports

DFSS issues a Head Start annual report in compliance with Head Start Program Performance Standards.

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CSD Annual Report 2019-2020
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CSD Annual Report 2020-2021
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Community Assessment and Resources

To ensure that their programs are responsive to the educational, health, nutrition, mental health, childcare, and social service needs of the communities they serve, DFSS must conduct a comprehensive community needs assessment once every five years and update it annually.

The community needs assessment plays an important role in multiple aspects of Head Start program planning including:

  1. Allocating slots or seats across areas with the most need;
  2. Creating enrollment selection criteria and recruitment plans;
  3. Determining the program models, options, and duration that will best meet the needs of families;
  4. Setting program goals and objectives for program quality improvement; and
  5. Creating community partnerships to meet the health and social service needs of the children and families.

To find out more about Head Start’s Community Needs Assessment requirement see HSPPS 1302.11.
DFSS provides its agencies with several tools that help them understand their community needs.  

Chicago Early Learning Indicators (ELI) Tool:

  • Chicago Early Learning Indicators Tool sponsored by the Chicago Department of Family and Support Services (DFSS).The Chicago Early Learning Indicators Tool provides high-quality data about the characteristics of Chicago children, families, and their communities. Through this tool, DFSS seeks to position early childhood program providers to respond to changing community demographics, community needs and strengths, and demand for early childhood programs in their target service areas.

DFSS Chicago Children Services Community Assessment 2020 & 2021

The DFSS - CSD Community Assessment 2020 and 2021 has been updated and is attached below. Delegate agencies can use DFSS’ Community Assessment to review and extract pertinent information when completing their agency community assessments. DFSS has used various tools at its disposal to assess the needs of its children, families, and agencies.

DFSS Community Needs Assessment Quinquennial Report

The Community Needs Assessment is a requirement of the federal Head Start grant and serves as a critical tool in planning services for all children throughout Chicago. The Head Start Program Performance Standards require Head Start grantees to conduct a thorough community needs assessment once every five years and review.

Young Children in Chicago: 2019
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Self-Assessment Reports

The Self-Assessment is an integral part of assessing Children Services Division’s progress in providing high quality services to children and families.  The Self-Assessment is concerned with how well CSD and its Head Start delegate agencies comply with Head Start Program Performance Standards, the Head Start Act, Illinois Early Learning Standards, and implement best practices in early childhood education and development, while meeting its program goals and objectives and the needs of local communities. Self-Assessment findings are used to set program priorities for the coming year, as reflected in the Action Plan. Each year CSD convenes a self-assessment committee that informs its self-assessment plan and conducts the self-assessment.

To read the latest Self-Assessment: