From Our Team

Dear Friends,

Garrette Horne, Community Engagement Manager, shakes hands with a CPS parent.

Like many, as our world began to rapidly shift as a result of COVID-19, our team hunkered down to do what we do best — ask parents what they need.

Since the beginning of this city, and indeed nationwide crisis, our team has made more than 200 phone calls (and counting!) to Chicago Public Schools parents, to understand what they need and how we can best support them.

Stories of Chicago families’ resilience have been humbling and inspiring for our team at Kids First Chicago.

Many of you have reached out to ask what we’ve been hearing from the families who we partner closest with — how they are coping, managing day-to-day while schools remain shuttered, and planning for the foreseeable future.

Three major themes have emerged from the hundreds of conversations we've had over the last two weeks:

  • Access to basic needs
  • Physical and mental wellness
  • Education

We invite you to explore what we’ve heard from families below. We will continue to work hard to partner with communities and the city to ensure families’ basic needs are being met during these uncertain times.


Daniel Anello and the Kids First Team

Communications, Updates, & Priorities Regarding COVID-19

Memo #1: What do families need right now? Let’s ask them.

Memo #2: What we’ve heard: Urgent & Emerging Needs of CPS Families

Memo #3: (Digital) Equity in the Time of Coronavirus

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My house was not ready to feed four kids and myself three times a day. I was able to get some things, but the amount of food I need to provide for my family gives me anxiety.

—A Humboldt Park parent

Access to Basic Needs

  • Parents described fear and shame around accessing emergency resources — concerns that are even most pronounced for undocumented Chicagoans.
  • As wages dry up, families face tough decisions about paying monthly bills, including rent. Parents spoke of concerns about possible evictions and compounded rent debt.

A Back of the Yards parent shared, “No one is financially prepared. My only source of income is the child support I receive from my children's father — it pays my rent. If he can't work, I don't know what I'm going to do.”

Another parent added, “I am a single mother of three daughters and currently have no income due to this Coronavirus pandemic. The only government assistance I receive is Link for food. I love working with the community and dedicate myself to helping others on a daily basis, but at this time I am in need of assistance. Because I have been off of work without pay, I currently can’t afford to provide for my children or pay my rent.”

  • Parents struggle with uncertainty about access to food, toiletries, vital medications, and supplies; most households are already operating in austerity mode. Parents from the Austin community shared that families are worried about access to food and are having difficulty accessing essential items like diapers and baby wipes.

One parent shared, “I’m caring for a lot of kids; I’m specifically worried about food.”

A Humboldt Park parent stated, “My house was not ready to feed four kids and myself three times a day. I was able to get some things, but the amount of food I need to provide for my family gives me anxiety.”

  • Families express concern about access to credible and quality information, alluding to the vast digital divide that not only keeps their children idling at home, instead of learning in school, but also elevates a bigger societal question about digital access as a civil right in America. For education, business, and more, COVID-19 has made our ability to move seamlessly face-to-face and virtual engagement a necessity.

Physical and Mental Wellness

Like all of us, the ever-changing guidance coming from the Federal Government has only added to anxiety and uncertainty about when this crisis will end. Parents feel an amplified amount of stress over the possibility of sudden and drastic changes to their household circumstances. They are bored and simultaneously overwhelmed, panicked, fearful, isolated, and lonely. What’s more troubling, their children don’t know how to process what is happening — and they, as parents, can’t provide reassuring answers. One West Side parent shared:

“I have three children at home with three different sets of needs: different learning needs, different food needs, etc. The children don't understand the situation. I’m not sure how to get them all on a schedule. I need help.”

A family of six from the Northwest Side also described constant stress: “We are preparing a list of things we are missing. Everyone is home — my husband and four kids. We are very worried about the rent and the bills coming up.”

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Both of my children have autism — trying to teach them both 1-on-1 is impossible. Teachers send assignments via email, but I have limitations to how I can help them. We only have one computer and I don’t know much about technology. They need their teachers. They are missing out on education.

—A South Side parent


Chicago Public Schools remain closed until at least April 30. While some individual schools and charter networks are able to offer remote learning options, the majority of CPS families have been left on their own to continue learning. As a result, the many barriers to a quality education that already existed before COVID-19 have been compounded.

  • As mentioned, a big source of inequity within Chicago is technology access — access to devices and high-speed internet — to enable continued learning. Truthfully, in households without access to digital resources, students likely already struggled to get homework done, communicate with teachers and classmates, and ask questions on school projects — even before this crisis hit.
  • Students without access to devices or the internet — many who may have already been behind their peers — are most certainly falling further behind.

For example, one parent talked about her four kids having to use technology at home for e-learning and the challenges of only having one computer to share among them. She added, “Teachers are also giving my kids the same time to get on Zoom, which does not help because of the lack of technology [devices]. I am a teacher, but I don’t know how to teach everything and my kids are in dual language classes, so I’m even less knowledgeable about that. It just creates a lot of tension because I do not want my kids to fall behind. I’m doing the best I can right now.”

Another parent expressed, “Chrome books need to be made available. Luckily I was able to take my computer from work home, other parents in other schools did not, which is stressing families out. Having computers locked away in schools is a waste and should be given to the students that need them.”

  • While students fall behind, grade promotions and graduation remain uncertain.
  • Students with special learning accommodations and needs are especially vulnerable right now. Parents say they are simply not receiving the support that they’ve fought so hard to secure in recent years.
  • Finally, parents need guidance about remote learning, how to gain access to quality at-home learning programs and educator support, and how best to structure learning for a broad range of learners and levels.

New Report

Digital Education in the Coronavirus Era
In Partnership with the Metropolitan Planning Council