Increasing Access to High Quality Child Care
Working parents sooner or later need to determine who will care for their baby when they return to their jobs, but challenges often arise with both access to child care programs and the costs involved. Because of the rapid and lasting brain development that occurs in babies from birth to three years of age, finding high quality child care that can greatly improve physical, emotional and cognitive outcomes in children is essential for all families in New Jersey.
With more than 200,000 babies in New Jersey having working parents, child care programs with availability can be hard to find. Currently, about 40% of municipalities in New Jersey are considered infant and toddler child care “deserts," with limited or no center-based child care programs for infants. And even when families can find a child care center with openings, costs can be prohibitive. The median cost for center-based child care for an infant in New Jersey is $250 a week, with fees being much higher in some areas.
It’s crucial for babies to have access to the highest quality care available during the years when their brains and bodies are experiencing tremendous growth. Children develop more than one million new neural connections per second during the first three years of life. Child care is often the first educational experience an infant has, and when the care is consistent and supportive, there are positive results, such as improved social skills and self-regulation; increased brain growth; greater school readiness and academic achievement; decreased need for special education and related services; and, higher graduation rates and lower juvenile crime. Not only are these outcomes personally beneficial for the babies involved, they are good for everyone in New Jersey.
In 2013, the state launched a child care quality rating system called Grow NJ Kids. One-star programs meet basic licensing standards, while five-star programs demonstrate effective practices in child care. Programs are rated by five categories: early learning, family and community engagement, health and safety, workforce qualifications, and program management. However, the system is still somewhat new and not all programs have been rated. Another resource for parents are the New Jersey’s Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies located in each county. They can provide information to families about local child care providers and how to obtain financial assistance.
Last year, thanks to a $38 million increase to New Jersey’s federal Child Care Development Block Grant, the state was able to make several improvements to the child care system, including raising the child care subsidy reimbursement rate and awarding grants to providers, with a special focus on care for infants. About 1,169 of the 1,615 child care providers that serve infants and toddlers participate in the state child care subsidy program, serving approximately 14,000 infants and toddlers annually. While this is a good start, even more intervention is needed to ensure high-quality child care is available that all families can access and afford.
To learn more about child care and what you do, visit Advocates for Children of New Jersey