8/9/21 - A Message from Secretary Hou: An Important announcement Regarding Our Division of Early Childhood

Dear colleagues,

The Illinois Department of Human Services (IDHS) exists to help all people in Illinois to reach their full potential by providing equitable access to human services, supports, programs, and resources. Since 1997, IDHS has delivered crucial social safety net services through the work of more than 13,000 employees in five divisions.

Now, IDHS is establishing a new, sixth division - the Division of Early Childhood. This reflects the importance of our early childhood mission at IDHS, and the priority Governor JB Pritzker has put on making Illinois the best state in America to raise young children. This new division will strengthen and centralize child care, home visiting, and early intervention services.

Please join me in welcoming Kirstin Chernawsky as the inaugural Director of the Illinois Department of Human Services' newly-created Division of Early Childhood. A passionate advocate and leader in the field, Kirstin's appointment is a testament to her leadership and experience.

For the past eight years, including the past five years as Executive Director, Kirstin has served on the executive leadership team at Erie Neighborhood House--Chicago's oldest settlement house, a social service non-profit with 150 employees at five Chicago locations, serving 20,000 participants annually. Kirstin has overseen program expansion in the areas of mental health, community wellness, and legal services.

Prior to her time with Erie, Kirstin served as the Director of Development & External Operations at Build Chicago. She earned a B.A. in Sociology and an M.S. in Public Service Management from DePaul University.

Kirstin will join IDHS on October 16, 2021. Bethany Patten will serve as Interim Director until then. Since January 1, Bethany has been the Associate Director for the Office of Early Childhood at the Division of Family and Community Services. Bethany has been ably managing the Early Childhood portfolio at IDHS, under the strong leadership of Family and Community Services Division Director Tim Verry, following the retirement of Linda Saterfield.

Once Kirstin joins the Department, Bethany will begin as the new Division's Associate Director of Programs. Bethany served from 2017-2020 as Workforce Policy Director in the Governor's Office of Early Childhood Development, where she staffed the Governor's Commission on Equitable Early Childhood Education and Care Funding. She earned a Masters of Public Policy from the University of Michigan and double majored in Economics and International Studies as an undergrad at the University of Iowa. Bethany has previously worked as a researcher, advocate, and teacher.

I am very optimistic about the future of Early Childhood programs in Illinois, and deeply grateful to the team that is building and leading our newest IDHS Division.


Grace B. Hou
Secretary, IDHS