Infant Welfare Society of Evanston Builds Bright Futures

For some parents, raising a child can seem more of a burden than a blessing.

Infant Welfare Society of Evanston (IWSE) believes all children should be supported by family, and they work to mitigate some of the stress of parenting by making quality early childhood education available to all children, regardless of background.

IWSE, founded in 1913 as a volunteer-run pasteurized milk distribution service, is committed to the care and early education of infants and toddlers, including support of young parents’ efforts to be self-sufficient providers and effective caregivers.

This year marks the organization’s Centennial celebration, and through 100 years of service and commitment to the Evanston community, the Infant Welfare Society has shaped childcare in the region. In 1918, the Society opened prenatal and pediatric health clinics in Evanston, thus reducing infant mortality in the city from 60 deaths per 1,000 to two. In the 1930s, the efforts grew to six clinics and at-home nurse visits, and, in 1971, the organization, responding to the increasing need for mothers to reenter the workforce, opened the Baby Toddler Nursery, the first licensed infant-toddler center in the state.

IWSE serves Evanston and its surrounding communities with programs that nurture, support and educate the whole family. They impact not only families living in poverty, but also children who exhibit developmental delays, who live in situations of homelessness or domestic violence, or who are parented by teen parents.

Care For the Community’s Youngest

IWSE’s specializes its care and education initiatives through three primary programs: Baby Toddler Nursery, Teen Baby Nursery and Family Support Program. Each offers a low child-teacher ratio, allowing children as young as six weeks to thrive in small classroom settings. Children are guaranteed a great deal of individualized education and relationship-based care.

IWSE’s Baby Toddler Nursery program features three infant classrooms, four toddler classrooms and one preschool. The Teen Baby Nursery, composed of two classrooms of eight children, is open to the children of enrolled Evanston Township High School students. Both programs work to ensure that children are prepared to enter school ready to learn. The so-called creative curriculum focuses on literacy, music, indoor and outdoor play, language skills and social-emotional development.

The programs also feature regular parent-teacher interaction and home visits. The Teen Baby Nursery program incorporates young mothers into the early education process. The program offers expectant mothers specialized attention, including prenatal classes and support to stay in school and graduate.

“Early learning experiences are key to a child being able to enter school ready to learn,” says Jennifer Riskind, IWSE Director of Development and Communications. “Once a child enters school behind his or her peers, it’s almost impossible to catch up.”

Children in each IWSE program are screened within 45 days of enrollment—and thereafter every six months—for the possibility of developmental delay. The organization provides early intervention services, including speech therapy and social-emotional playgroups, to children who show signs of delay. This early detection allows the problem to be quickly addressed.

The Family Support Program assigns families a home visitor, with whom they build a rapport. These weekly intensive home visits prepare parents to understand approaching benchmarks, manage stress and reduce the risk of child neglect and abuse.

“Through our home visitors, we encourage literacy and parent-child playgroups to support parents as their children’s first teacher,” Riskind says.

IWSE ensures children are prepared to enter kindergarten, setting the stage for future school success and, ultimately, future life success.

Infant Welfare Society of Evanston By the Numbers

  • 95 percent of IWSE’s families are at or below the poverty line.
  • 8:3 is the ratio of students to teachers in the Baby Toddler Nursery; 14:3 in IWSE’s preschool classes.
  • 65 families with 72 children are served by the Family Support Program
  • Early childhood education is important: 85 percent of a child’s brain is developed by the time they are 5 years old.

Upcoming Events

This special event will celebrate 100 years of significant work in childcare in Evanston. The evening will feature an exhibit of IWSE’s history and a video showcasing its mission and work with at-risk children and families. All proceeds will benefit IWSE’s programs providing high-quality early childhood education and family support services for teen parents and low-income families with young children.

The third annual culinary fundraising event will include signature appetizer and dessert samplings from some of the area’s best chefs, as well as a live auction and cocktails. Last year’s line-up of chefs included Brian Huston, Chef de Cuisine of The Publican, Vince di Battista of Campagnola, and Jeff Perin of Davis Street Fish Market, as well as pastries from Tag’s Bakery and signature drinks from North Shore Distillery.