New Jersey Babies Count: A New Report on Children Under Age Three

On July 30th, Advocates for Children of New Jersey released its very first New Jersey Babies Count report on the current well-being of children zero to three years old in the state. According to the data outlined in the report, a significant number of New Jersey’s children face obstacles that threaten their future potential.

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Demographics show that most of these challenges disproportionately affect certain racial groups, with great disparity in child protection and health outcomes for both babies and their mothers. This time in a baby’s life is the most crucial for their development, but not all children in New Jersey are off to a healthy start.

“Our babies are just starting out in life and already have the odds stacked against them,” said Cecilia Zalkind, President and CEO of Advocates for Children of New Jersey. “The data shows that the critical supports needed to help families with young children are difficult to access or in short supply,” she said.

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More than 310,000 children under age 3 call New Jersey home, and 35 percent of them come from low-income families. New Jersey’s youngest residents are increasingly diverse: 57 percent of children under age 3 are children of color and 41 percent of births in New Jersey are to foreign-born mothers.

Access to childcare is a major hurdle for New Jersey families. The majority of children less than a year old have mothers in the workforce, yet fewer than half of the state’s 4,025 child care centers are licensed to serve infants and toddlers.

Childcare also remains unaffordable for many families. New Jersey does provide child care subsidies at a weekly rate of $167 per infant and $165 per toddler for qualifying families. However, only 12 percent of licensed child care centers had prices that met the subsidy rate for infant care and 19 percent for toddler care.

New Jersey is only one of four states in the nation with paid family leave, but in 2016, fewer than 27,000 employees filed claims to receive paid time off to spend time with a newborn or adopted child, most due to financial considerations.

Though only 3 percent of children under age 3 were without health insurance in New Jersey, data shows that health outcomes for babies born to black mothers were distressing. They are more likely to receive late prenatal care, be born with a low birthweight or die before their first birthday than the state average.

Infants and toddlers are also more likely to be victims of abuse and neglect than the statewide child average. They make up 26 percent of the state’s total out-of-home, foster care population and in 2016, 10 out of the 17 child deaths due to abuse and neglect were to children under 3 years old. While black children under 3 years old make up 14 percent of the statewide 0-3 population, they represented 36 percent of all children under supervision within New Jersey’s child protection system in 2017.

The New Jersey Babies Count report tells us access to healthcare services, access to affordable, quality child care and home visitation for new parents result in better outcomes for all. “By targeting this age group,” said Zalkind, “policymakers and state leaders have an opportunity to change the trajectory and lead babies on the pathway to a healthy and productive future.”