Kids play at Child Care Center

Kids play at Illinois State University’s Child Care Center.

What started as a registered student organization in 1970 is now an integral part of Illinois State University.

Illinois State’s Child Care Center (CCC) was created by a group of married students with preschool children when they bonded in a social work class taught by Mildred Pratt. Through their student activism, the Child Care Center was founded in 1971. The mission at the time was to provide affordable child care to students who were also parents.

The center began under the directorship of David Morgan and included a parent advisory board. As the center experienced success, it quickly outgrew its location and moved to their current location in Turner Hall, where it could accommodate up to 22 preschool-age children.

Due to continued growth, the provost granted the center use of Metcalf School classrooms to provide half-day services for children in kindergarten. Around this time, quality became as important as affordability. The Department of Home Economics also became more involved in ensuring the quality of care and two faculty members were added to the advisory board.

In 1976, Barbara Huffman became the CCC director and began to teach one class a semester in the Department of Home Economics. Only four years later, Karen Stephens began her 30-year tenure as the center director, where she championed the importance of providing a high-quality center for children and students.

“Relationships, socialization, constructive conflict resolution, and the value and dignity of all children have always been at the core of the center’s service approach,” said Stephens. Since then, the center has focused on children’s social and emotional development as well as cognitive and physical development.

LOGOUnder Stephens’ leadership, the center earned accreditation from the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC). In addition, the center began a longstanding partnership with WZND. Each year, WZND raises at least $2,000 to support the continued growth and success of the center. As one example, in 2002, the play yard outside of Turner Hall was renovated to expand outdoor learning and create an outdoor classroom, which children use several times a day.

In 2009, Turner Hall was closed for a year for life and safety renovations. During that year the center was also closed and its NAEYC accreditation lapsed. The center was upgraded with new flooring, ceilings, lighting, electrical, and plumbing. In addition, in 2013, with generous donor support, the Department of Family and Consumer Sciences installed a secured entry system to the center to monitor access to the facility.

Now in its 45th year, the center is directed by Carissa Carlson, who spent 14 years at the Heartland Child Development Lab. Carlson worked at the center as a student and returned to serve as director in 2014.

“I believe the children who leave our program are prepared to handle the challenges of the world we live in and working with others, as they will need to do in higher grades,” said Carlson.

Beginning the fall 2015 school year, for the first time the center started operating on a 12-month calendar to provide better continuity of care to its children and families. As a result of this change, families will no longer have to find alternative care during the four-week semester break between fall and spring, or the six-week summer break.

“The ISU Child Care Center changed my life,” said former CCC parent Tracy Bovee. “The center was a safe place that provided care for my child. There is a consistency of care, and the culture of the staff inspired me as a parent to take lessons home and cultivate them in daily life.”

In addition to these operational changes, this past spring the center was once again able to earn NAEYC accreditation. The center also received the Gold Circle of Quality through ExeleRate Illinois—a program offered through The Illinois Network of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies. ExceleRate IL is a quality rating and improvement system which allows programs to pursue efforts to learn more and improve skills of the children with whom they work. This is an important recognition that is granted to only a few centers in the local area.

For questions regarding the Child Care Center, please contact Carissa Carlson at (309) 438-5026 or visit