Strolling Thunder Event Highlights Crucial Needs of New Jersey Children and Families
New Jersey lawmakers, child advocates, babies and parents joined forces at the Strolling Thunder™ New Jersey rally in Trenton on May 21 to bring attention to the needs of young children in our state. Strolling Thunder is a national initiative to promote greater public investments in early childhood such as paid family leave, affordable, quality child care, and access to healthcare for expectant mothers and infants.
Although New Jersey provides full-day quality preschool to nearly 48,000 3- and 4-year-olds in low-income communities, the state can do more to give our youngest children a strong start, right from the start. “We’re on a great pathway, but we can make it much better. Learning doesn’t begin at age 3,” said Cecilia Zalkind, president and CEO of Advocates for Children of New Jersey, the event organizer.
Speakers highlighted the importance of birth-to-3, a critical time in a child’s life when 80 percent of brain development occurs.
“We can’t get those early years back,” said Susan O’Donnell, Executive Director of Head Start Community Programs, Morris County. “If we invest resources early, our outcomes for children are so much better. Investing early also affects the whole family and the community for the better.”
New Jersey is home to more than 300,000 children under age 3. With 66 percent of these young children having parents in the workforce, more than 207,000 infants and toddlers spend a large part of their day in child care.
Parents at the Strolling Thunder™ New Jersey event advocated for access to affordable, quality child care and enough time for parents to bond with their little ones.
“Child care costs an arm and a leg in New Jersey,” said Monique Baptiste, a mother of four from Newark. “And if you don’t qualify for subsidies, it’s really tough to make it work. It puts a lot of stress on parents to try to figure it all out.”
After the speakers’ remarks, attendees, many of whom pushed their babies in strollers, walked from the steps of the statehouse in Trenton down West State Street, chanting: “Hey-hey, ho-ho, who’s gonna help our children grow?"
“We want state leaders to know that the decisions they make in Trenton can set the trajectory for some New Jersey children to learn and thrive, while others struggle and fail to reach their potential,” said Zalkind. “Babies can’t talk or tell us what they need. That’s why we need to make noise and raise our voices for our youngest children.”
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