Network Coordinator: Aurelia Daniels (312) 868-0588 Ext. 5012 firstname.lastname@example.org
Address: 806 N. Peoria Street, 5th fl
Chicago, Illinois 60642
Chicago West AOK Network is a human-centered, cross-sector collaborative committed to improving maternal and child outcomes on Chicago’s Westside. In 2022, the nonprofit, It Takes a Village (ITAV) received a grant from the Department of Human Services/Division of Early Childhood to launch the Chicago West AOK Network to convene local organizations and caregivers on Chicago’s westside to promote improved maternal and child outcomes.
The Chicago West AOK Network formed in June 2022 to serve five communities on the west sides of Chicago: Austin, Humboldt Park, East and West Garfield Park and North Lawndale. Several indicators support the need for establishing an AOK network on Chicago’s west side. The service area is largely characterized by communities of color that have long experienced residential segregation, socioeconomic marginalization, and other forms of institutional racism. The service area communities each have slightly higher birth rates – particularly births to teen parents – and higher proportions of young children than the city overall. Approximately 3,976 children under the age of two live at or below the federal poverty limit in the five community areas. Community conditions described above point to persistent barriers and increased need for access to resources and services for families.
ITAV and other partners on the city’s westside have found that not all organizations are referring families to services they need and want. When families are referred, they do not always enroll in services or receive the important resources. The Chicago West AOK Network is, “Bridging the gap,” to connect children, caregivers, and communities with service providers with the following approaches:
- Establish the Chicago West AOK Network by convening organizations that serve children, caregivers, and communities on Chicago’s westside.
- Create a strategic plan to promote equity and justice to improve maternal and child outcomes on Chicago’s westside.
- Bring together caregivers on Chicago’s westside through activities and opportunities to build rapport led by parent ambassadors.
- Launch IRIS, a web-based information and referral system to refer families to needed services.
- Promote parent ambassadors’ efforts to ensure that Chicago West AOK Network initiatives are meeting the need of families with young children on Chicago’s westside.
In 2023, the Chicago West AOK Network will establish a governance structure by establishing a local vision and mission for the new collaboration. It will establish platforms and processes that promote an ongoing and fluid exchange of information and dialogue among Network members and member organizations. It will deepen Network members’ knowledge and skills that are needed for collaboration and system building. An executive committee and task forces will be formed within the Chicago West AOK Network to execute identified approaches outlined in our strategic plan.
The Chicago West AOK Network will onboard eight parent ambassadors to foster community among caregivers on Chicago’s westside. The purpose is to share resources, provide referrals, and empower caregivers to actively participate in efforts that will inform an early childhood system that works for them.
In addition, the AOK Network will identify current information and referral practices and build cross sector buy in to launch IRIS, a web-based information, referral, and intake application. IRIS supports warm hand-offs for families, closes the communication loop for referring organizations, and provides a clear data driven picture of partner capacity to continually improve the process and track outcomes. Establishing a system-wide referral process assures families get the services they need.
Chicago West AOK Network is committed to bridging the gap between caregivers’ awareness and access to early childhood services within their community, while also increasing service providers’ knowledge of the immediate needs of the community from a grassroots perspective. By actively engaging local organizations and stakeholders, Chicago’s westside will be better prepared to improve the early childhood systems and outcomes for children and families.