Time to reimagine little one care in NJ

Credit: (Advocate for Children of New Jersey)Jackie Boyett, mother of two, pictured with her family in Scotch Plains, NJ

It takes a village to raise a child, but what happens when that village is not nearby? Ask a new parent and they will tell you how difficult it is to find affordable, reliable, quality childcare. It’s even more difficult for working parents like me who have limited resources and have to choose between the care I can afford and the quality my child deserves. The first few years of a child’s life are an incredible period of growth and discovery that will lay the foundation for the rest of their life.

After my first son was born, I was relieved to learn that New Jersey offers student grant childcare to cover the cost of center or home care. On paper, any working family that meets the income eligibility can benefit from this. In practice, however, parents face a daunting application process and many daycare centers do not accept subsidies due to the low reimbursement rate. It is no surprise that only one in six children eligible for childcare benefits actually receive it.

After countless searches and phone calls, I finally found a daycare center for my son. The center was not convenient (30 minutes from home), nor did it meet my standards for quality care. However, it was the only place I could afford to accept tuition fees. My options were limited and I needed childcare to get back to work.

Then, last year, at a time when I needed the most support, I was banned from the program without warning because I hadn’t informed the state of my status change. My second child was born prematurely and, as you can imagine, my focus was on the health and wellbeing of my baby. This counterproductive system of enrolling and renewing benefits and the lack of available options illustrate the challenges of accessing affordable childcare.

If I could reimagine childcare in the Garden State, every child or toddler would have access to quality early learning settings regardless of income or zip code. I know my family is not alone when it comes to balancing childcare and work. But it feels like this fight has long been ignored. As we recover from this pandemic, New Jersey must also rebuild its childcare system, taking into account the needs of families, while making programs easier to navigate. We cannot go back to what it was. To have access to the childcare we all need – now and in the future – New Jersey must make childcare funding an ongoing budget priority.

Fortunately, there is good news. Meaningful support for families is emerging. President Joe Biden’s US bailout plan includes approximately $ 936 million in federal funds earmarked to support childcare in New Jersey. Before long, heads of state and policymakers will decide how best to spend this money. As parents of young children, we can be part of this important process. Our collective voice and our stories matter. Join me on Wednesday, June 9th for the 4th Annual Strolling Thunder NJ, a virtual event hosted by New Jersey’s Advocates for Children (ACNJ) that brings parents from across New Jersey together to develop solutions that they can work with Heads of State can exchange better, stronger childcare systems that benefit all of us. Your input is important!

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