Public Policy

OP-ED: Ignoring rising child care costs puts infants at risk

Published in The Star-Ledger on Monday, November 6, 2017

It might not happen today, and it might not happen tomorrow, but a baby will face serious harm at a New Jersey child care center. It’s just a question of when and where. And if preventive action isn’t taken quickly, the responsibility, ultimately, will rest with the New Jersey Legislature.

Though New Jersey’s child care system faces many challenges, the most urgent is the inadequacy of the state child care subsidy. Each year, the state provides financial assistance in the form of subsidies to help pay for child care for approximately 80,000 children from low-income families, enabling parents to participate in the workforce.

The Legislature has not increased the subsidy for infant care since 2008, as we have reminded them repeatedly in letters, policy papers and testimony. Today’s infant care subsidy is the same $32.12 a day established nearly a decade ago. But now, that barely covers the costs of keeping the doors open, like staffing, supplies, rent and utilities. And it leaves nothing to cover repairs, let alone invest in quality improvements like facilities upgrades, staff training and professional development or parent engagement initiatives. In fact, New Jersey’s infant care reimbursement is an alarming 40 percent below national standards for quality care.

With that $32.12 stretched thinner and thinner by rising costs, the shortfall has compromised staffing and training, driven up turnover, and begun to undermine providers’ ability to meet critical safety and care standards. A review of recent child care center violations revealed numerous basic safety concerns, like leaving babies unattended or in cribs in unsafe conditions. A shocking 34 percent of centers were cited for not having staff Child Abuse Record Information (CARI) background checks on file, which is required by the State of New Jersey.

Providers understand the stakes and they’ve demonstrated amazing creativity and tenacity to continue serving New Jersey’s working families. They’ve leaned on each other and shared resources and ideas. They’ve built partnerships with community-based organizations and, so far, they – and we – have been lucky.

But eventually, something has to give. And though the reimbursement shortfall affects all children, providers understand that the risks are greater for babies who require more intensive attention and care. Better than most, providers understand that it is now just a question of when our luck will run out. That’s why child care providers are working with us to sound the alarm.

Leadership from Trenton on this important issue is long overdue and the silence has been deafening. Increasing the infant care reimbursement rate must be an urgent priority for the Legislature and New Jersey’s incoming governor. Just one incident resulting in serious harm to a baby would certainly result in a crisis of confidence in our state’s entire child care system. With more than 400,000 children in New Jersey child care centers, the impact on working families and their employers would be alarming.

For a small fraction of the funding earmarked for the State Capitol renovation project, the Legislature could increase the infant care reimbursement rate to a point that would allow providers to meet basic staffing and training standards. That’s not enough to ensure quality care, but it would reduce the likelihood of an avoidable tragedy. And it would serve as an important down payment on quality child care that keeps working parents on the job, keeps kids safe and prepares them for success in school.

Ignoring a problem and hoping for the best is no way to make public policy. Ten years has been more than long enough to wait for action on this life-and-death priority.

Jennifer Santana, President, Coalition of Infant/Toddler Educators
Cecilia Zalkind, President and CEO, Advocates for Children of New Jersey

Baby Talk: Resources to Support the People Who Work With Infants and Toddlers: Issue No. 30 November 2013

More Than Baby Talk: 10 Ways to Promote the Language and Communication Skills of Infants and Toddlers  

This brief guide describes ten practices that early childhood teachers can use to foster language and communication skills among infants and toddlers. The guidelines are based upon the latest research findings on optimal adult-child interactions for promoting strong language and communication skills among young children.  

Noise ≠ Conversation  

DVDs and educational programs on TV have a growing place in helping young children to learn. But there’s new evidence that they may not be as effective as old fashioned conversation. Even before birth, children hear sounds and words and can babble a variety of noises that will eventually coalesce into language. The dynamic interaction between the infant and her caregiver—a back-and-forth that static videos and television programs can’t provide—is critical for efficient language learning.

40 Fine Motor Skills Activities  

The fine motor skills activities for young children in this collection are easy to set up and will promote a whole range of skills. They’re creative, open-ended, appropriate and varied with ideas for practicing motor skills through art, sensory play and simple manipulative games.

Supporting Infants and Toddlers in the Child Welfare System

ZERO TO THREE and Child Trends have recently released a report online entitled “Changing the Course for Infants and Toddlers: A Survey of State Child Welfare Policies and Initiatives.”  The 67-page report includes findings from a 2013 survey of state child welfare agencies about the policies and practices that guide their work in addressing the needs of infants and toddlers who have been maltreated.  Download or print a copy here.  For related companion pieces click here.   

Using Toys to Support Infant-Toddler Learning and Development

This article by Gabriele Guyton offers strategies for selecting toys to meet young children’s unique needs and interests.

Baby Talk is a free, one-way listserv that is distributed monthly. Each issue features resources that are high quality, readily available and free.  To join the listserv, send an email with no message to subscribe-babytalk@listserv.unc.edu.   To suggest resources, please contact  Camille Catlett at camille.catlett@unc.edu or (919) 966-6635.

Baby Steps: Poverty, chronic stress, and New York’s youngest children

http://blogs.newschool.edu/child-welfare-nyc/files/2013/09/CWW23.pdf

Child Welfare Watch Report Vol. 23, Fall 2013 (PDF)

Scientific research has firmly established that early childhood experiences can have a tremendous impact on our lifelong well-being. When infants are exposed to chronic stress or trauma, the effect can be toxic, stunting brain growth and changing the trajectories of their lives. On the other hand, giving babies the care and attention they need provides a strong foundation for future development.

 

CWW23_Cover-450



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