Gateways Overview

What Matters Most

Welcome to Gateways to Opportunity—a statewide system designed to support Illinois early care and education, school-age, and youth development professionals. From credentialing to career guidance to education and training resources to peer networking and more, Gateways to Opportunity focuses on what matters most—helping you help children.

Gateways to Opportunity Provides

Opportunities for Change

Over a decade of research demonstrates positive stimulation and nurturing relationships during the early years of life create the foundation for a child’s lifelong thinking, attitudes, and behavior. Nurturing relationships begin with the long-lasting effects that parents have on their children’s growth and development. And, nurturing relationships continue with highly qualified and motivated practitioners who prepare children to achieve greater academic and social success in school and later life.

For early childhood and family support services to produce substantial long-term educational, social, and economic benefits for Illinois, the supply of well-qualified teaching staff, administrators, and other professionals serving young children from various cultural and linguistic backgrounds must be dramatically increased.

Gateways to Opportunity was designed by the Professional Development Advisory Council (PDAC), which is made up of highly qualified practitioners, educators, and advocates around the state. As part of PDAC’s overall strategy to improve the stability of the workforce, Gateways to Opportunity is designed to increase access to and use of opportunities for professional development for early care and education, school-age, and youth development practitioners. Gateways to Opportunity can be found at

Gateways to Opportunity is specifically designed to meet the needs of over 100,000 early care and education, school-age, and youth development professionals in Illinois who work in:

  • Early care and education (in family child care; center-based care; and relative, friend, and neighbor care)
  • Early childhood special education
  • Early intervention
  • Public education
  • Family support
  • Head Start/Early Head Start
  • Higher education
  • Home visiting
  • Pre-kindergarten
  • Child Care Resource & Referral
  • Other early childhood programs and settings
  • Before and after-school programs
  • Youth Programs and services
  • Other school-age and youth programs

Opportunities for Development

Gateways to Opportunity provides a central resource to help those serving children and youth meet career development goals by providing services and unique benefits, including:

  • Professional Development Advisors (PDAs)—Provide an opportunity to work with individuals who can help achieve professional development and credentialing goals in early care and education and school-age care.
  • Credentialing and Recognition Levels —Facilitate smooth transitions through the professional development system, enabling professionals to obtain meaningful credentials, degrees, and support for increased compensation.
  • Career Employment Paths and Choices—Recruit, support, and retain professionals by identifying pathways for career advancement and movement between positions for early care and education, school-age, and youth development practitioners.
  • Core Job Competencies and Requirements—Guarantee that early care and education professionals, policymakers, and advocates are familiar with the core knowledge and skills of those who care for young children and their families in Illinois.
  • Education and Training Resources—Coordinate, improve, and increase access to education and training required for continued work or advancement in the field, both online and through qualified advisors.
  • Scholarship Opportunities—Pays a percentage of the cost of tuition and fees for practitioners working in early care and education and school-age care.
  • Work Compensation—Rewards eligible ECE practitioners in DCFS licensed child care centers, family/group, and family child care providers for receiving higher education and for remaining at their current place of employment.

Opportunities for Support

As a central resource for those who work or want to work in the field of early care and education, school-age, and youth development, Gateways to Opportunity offers benefits to anyone seeking professional development opportunities including:

  • Experienced Professionals—Gateways makes it easier for early care and education, school-age, and youth development professionals to enroll in degree programs, giving them a better sense of requirements and access to further education and training opportunities.
  • Entry-Level Professionals—Gateways provides more entry-level staff with formal training, bringing more qualified individuals to the field.
  • Higher Education—Gateways supports faculty and administrators in designing courses to ensure that students completing programs are competent and that course content facilitates credit transfers.
  • Employers—Gateways provides the tools to evaluate applicants’ or employees’ knowledge and skill levels, so employers can plan training and develop ways to determine competency upon completion of training.
  • Families and Children—Gateways assists parents in their awareness of the qualifications of caregivers and educators to determine what is best for their children.
  • Advocacy Organizations—Gateways provides a central online resource for information on credentials, training, and core competencies that advocates can use or recommend to their clients.
  • New or aspiring entrants—Gateways provides advisement on clear pathways for education and training by listing core competencies, credentials, and one-stop access to information on career options in the early care and education field.

What is the vision of Gateways to Opportunity?

The partners involved in this collaborative effort are committed to developing an integrated statewide professional development system, promoting professionalism within the early care and education, school-age, and youth development fields, and providing opportunities and compensation for professionals to further their education and training. The system will be accessible and affordable to the diverse community of practitioners across Illinois—including those who are new to the field. We recognize that this vision is possible only in collaboration with statewide, regional, and local organizations and funding entities (private and public) committed to this common purpose. Gateways to Opportunity can be found at



Gateways to Opportunity is funded by public and private support including the McCormick Foundation, the Grand Victoria Foundation,    

INCCRRA Logo     IDHS Logo