What’s New?

Unlocking Potential: Our Ambitious Roadmap to Close Inequities for NJ Babies

In order to give all children a strong and equitable start in life, New Jersey must begin with an intentional focus on eliminating racial inequities and disparities in access to essential supports, according to a new report, Unlocking Potential, released today by Advocates for Children of New Jersey (ACNJ).

Read Unlocking Potential, A Roadmap to Making New Jersey the Safest, Healthiest and Most Supportive Place to Give Birth and Raise a Family

The statewide plan, funded by the Pritzker Children's Initiative (PCI), provides the action steps needed to achieve concrete targets related to early childhood development with the goal of ensuring an additional 25 percent of low-income infants and toddlers - 27,000 young children - will have access to high-quality services by 2023. These supports include access to quality child care, home visiting, health and mental health services.

Unlocking Potential is based on the belief that we all have a role to play in achieving equity and that supporting equal opportunities at the start of a child’s life is the first step in eliminating disparities that impact outcomes for babies, families and communities. The foundation for change is in place; the opportunity is now!

 

Attention Newark Youth: Want to learn to shape policy?

Be a part of Advocates for Children of New Jersey's Newark Future Policymaker Advocacy Trainings. Ideal candidates are Newark residents ages 18-24 interested in learning more about the role of policymaking in shaping their city and receiving on the ground training by experienced advocates. Apply by January 28, 2022, 5pm to be considered. Participants will be compensated for their time ($100 per training session). For questions or comments, contact Kaleena Berryman, kbconsultingllc21@gmail.com, or Alana Vega, avega@acnj.org.

Data on Family Assistance Programs Updated on Kids Count Dashboard

Latest Kids Count Data Update
By Alena Siddiqui, Kids Count Coordinator

ACNJ has posted more data to our Kids Count Data Dashboard. This quarter, we have updates on a variety of data indicators relating to nutrition, teens & young adults, and early care & education. Those having to do with family assistance programs include:

  • Children in Families Receiving Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)
  • Children Receiving New Jersey Special Supplemental Nutrition Program (NJ SNAP) (formerly known as Food Stamps)
  • Number Enrolled in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC)
  • Number Participating in WIC
    Note, number participating refers to those who are actively using WIC. These data are helpful to see of those enrolled, how many are actually participating.
  • Percent Participating in WIC Out of Total Enrolled

These indicators show some interesting trends for New Jersey’s counties and for the state as a whole. Click here to view numbers broken down by county.

An Overview of Program Usage

Children Receiving NJ SNAP, 2017-2021

While the number of children receiving NJ SNAP dipped from 2017 to 2019, trends show that the numbers started to rise in 2020 and have now reached close to 400,000. Between 2020 and 2021, the number of children receiving SNAP rose by 21 percent.

Children in Families Receiving TANF
Unlike NJ SNAP, which has been rising since 2019, TANF only experienced a brief peak in 2020, followed by another decline in 2021. The number of children in families receiving TANF in 2021 has decreased significantly for counties located in north and south Jersey while central Jersey counties, with the exception of Ocean and Mercer, saw an increase.

Number Enrolled in WIC
When looking at the dashboard, we see that for the percentage participating in WIC, New Jersey stayed at 90% from 2017 to 2018, then dropped to 84% in 2019 and rose to 89% in 2021. When comparing the number enrolled in WIC versus the number participating, New Jersey has seen a decline for both indicators from 2017 to 2021. Interestingly, many counties saw the lowest point for the number participating in WIC in 2020.

While the three programs were created to help bring families out of poverty, eligibility criteria differ. New Jersey repealed the family cap in 2020 that denied more cash assistance to families who have another child while enrolled in TANF, reduced the work requirements and boosted payments to $559 a month for a family of three, but the payment is still well below the poverty line considering that New Jersey is a very expensive state.

In order to be eligible for NJ SNAP, besides being a New Jersey resident, the annual household income must not exceed 185 percent of the federal poverty level, or $49,025 before taxes for a family of four. The criteria for enrollment for TANF may explain why enrollment lags behind SNAP. Residents may also lack awareness of the programs.

The household income eligibility to enroll in the WIC program is the same as for SNAP, 185 percent of the federal poverty level. However, WIC is a nutrition and educational program designed specifically for pregnant and post-partum women, infants and children up to age five, that provides health and nutrition screenings to ward off poor growth rates in infants and children, poor pregnancy outcomes and poor health and nutrition at a critical stage of child development.

There is good news for New Jersey in the fight against poverty and malnutrition. The Food Desert Relief Act, part of the Economic Recovery Act signed into law by Governor Murphy in January 2021, directs the NJEDA to address food insecurity by providing up to $40 million per year for six years in tax credits, loans, grants, and/or technical assistance in order to increase access to nutritious foods and develop new approaches to alleviate food deserts and provide healthier food options within these communities. Additionally, the act helps food retailers respond to the shift to e-commerce, including SNAP and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children.

The organization Hunger Free NJ created a new initiative called Hungry? Get Help, which aims to boost awareness of the many food assistance programs New Jersey has to offer, including NJ SNAP, WIC, free school meals, a list of food banks and more. The Department of Human Services also has a website, NJHelps.org, that may help individuals determine what food or cash assistance programs they are eligible for, and health insurance through NJ FamilyCare.

Additionally, on January 4, the New Jersey Economic Development Authority (NJEDA) released a preliminary list of communities identified as food deserts, or low-income areas where a substantial number of residents have little to no access to stores selling healthy and affordable food. NJEDA held listening sessions in early January to receive feedback on the report. Members of the public who have questions about the designations, or who would like to provide additional input, can click here or email fooddesertrelief@njeda.com. Public comments are due by February 4, 2022.

ACNJ updates our Kids Count Data Dashboard on a regular basis. View the most recent information regarding the well-being of the state’s children by visiting acnj.org/kids-count

Save the date! Newark Kids Count will be released on
Wednesday, March 22nd. Stay tuned for more details!

Helping Your Child Get On Track: Education Tips for 2022

By Nina Peckman, Staff Attorney

What kinds of questions should you ask at the school meeting to assess your child’s progress and to request help for your child?

  • What information does the Start Strong assessment result say about my child? How are these results guiding the instruction that my child is getting?
  • What are my child’s current reading and math levels? What were they in June 2021? In June 2020? 
  • What informal assessments did my child receive? What skills did the assessments test cover?
  • What is the average range of a typical child at the point in time of this meeting for math and reading? (ex. January of the 4th-grade year)
  • What are the skills that are typically learned by a child in my child’s grade?
  • What kind of specific services can you add to my child’s curriculum, during school, after or in the summer to make up for services that should have been provided but weren’t?
  • If my child becomes overwhelmed by too many extra services, can we agree to provide extra education services for my child over the next two years?
  • If tutoring is available, what are the qualifications of the tutor?
  • What kind of counseling services can my child receive? Can the counseling services have specific goals to address my child’s particular needs?
  • If my child needs an accommodation to his or her school schedule due to stress, depression or anxiety, how can my child receive that without being punished for being absent from class/school?
  • How can my child get missed classwork, tests or homework with extra time and extra support if necessary, to make up for time away from class due to emotional issues?
  • My child has a therapist who understands my child’s emotional and behavioral issues and is helping with that. What can I do to ensure the school counselor collaborates with the therapist?
  • How will school staff decide and document if the added strategies and services are working to help my child?
  • Can we schedule a short meeting in six weeks to go over my child’s progress and see how the additional services are working?

If your child’s education was affected by the pandemic, parents can take certain steps to help get them back on track. Your school may already be providing your children with additional education services and supports. If you feel that the supports and services are inadequate, or are not sure if your child is making adequate progress, follow these steps for 2022:

1. Request a school meeting to discuss progress and how to help your child.

Write to your child’s teacher and principal, if applicable, as well the school guidance counselor, social worker, Intervention and Referral Services (IR&S) team, Child Study Team, 504 team or other school support staff, to request a meeting to discuss:

  • your child’s current academic levels, 
  • what progress your child should have made since March 2020, 
  • what progress has been made, if the school-based services are helping your child progress; and
  • what assessments should be conducted, what other services should be implemented.

2. Prepare for a school meeting.

You should review your child’s relevant school records and write down questions or concerns you may have. Write to your school principal and ask for copies of student records from March 2020 until the present, including grades, progress reports, attendance records, child study team evaluation reports and education plans if applicable, intervention and referral services plans, health plans, behavior plans, a copy of the Start Strong assessment results (administered in the fall of 2021 for students in 4th grade or higher), and the results of objective informal assessments that teachers give students periodically to assess language arts and math.

You should also request a record of the education services your child received from March 2020  to the present.

Records must be provided within ten days of your written request in a mutually convenient way, such as you picking them up, or having them emailed or mailed.

3. Know what services you can ask for.

Your child is entitled to receive tutoring at mutually convenient times, summer school, supplementary classes, counseling, social-emotional supports and an I&RS plan if a more formal structured service plan is needed. If your child has learning or behavior/emotional issues that are seriously affecting school performance, child study team evaluations may be appropriate and if eligible, an Individualized Education Plan or a 504 plan.

4. After the meeting is over - Get confirmation.

Ask for written confirmation from the school staff attending about what will be provided. You can also email the school staff that participated and confirm what was agreed upon at the meeting, including any next steps.

If the school staff who were at the meeting do not implement an appropriate plan or address your concerns, you may contact ACNJ Staff Attorney Nina Peckman for information and advocacy assistance at npeckman@acnj.org or by calling (973) 643-3876, ext. 226.

Beginning a New Year: State Child Care Payment Practices Update

Thanks to the New Jersey Legislature and Governor Murphy, a bill was passed and signed into law in late December requiring child care subsidy payments based on a program’s enrollment, rather than on attendance, to continue. Child care providers throughout the state are beginning the new year with a sigh of relief as a steady stream of much-needed guaranteed and predictable funding is promised through the policy.

This relief however, is short-lived. The law is set to expire June 2022. At that time, the practice may revert back to the previous policy, when payments were based on attendance. This resulted in unstable funding for providers, particularly for those in low-income communities, where programs rely heavily on the subsidy system.

What has become clear in the last two years is that we cannot go back to the pre-pandemic child care system that was inadequate for working families, the committed staff who care for and educate our children and most importantly, for the children themselves. Although this recent announcement is good news, it is only temporary. And for an industry that was deemed “essential” during the height of the pandemic, child care providers continue to struggle to keep their doors open. In this new year, ACNJ remains committed to work collaboratively with the state and other early childhood stakeholders to finally address these issues by developing and implementing a bold, comprehensive system of early education and care. We urge Governor Murphy, our Legislature and all of our early childhood partners to reimagine child care and make a promise to help all of New Jersey’s children thrive.

More Than Just Funding:
New Jersey’s Child Care System Still Needs Help

The problems plaguing the child care system extend far beyond the way in which the state provides subsidy payments and existed long before the pandemic began nearly two years ago. These problems include:

  • A staffing crisis continues to exist. Employees are unwilling to work for chronically low wages, particularly when higher salaried positions, which often include attractive benefits packages, are available;
  • The number of registered family child care homes continue to dwindle, further reducing care options available to working parents, particularly those with very young children; and
  • Families struggle to find child care options for their infants and toddlers, living in infant/toddler child care deserts.

Thanks For Celebrating With Us!

As 2021 comes to a close, we look back on yet another successful year of educating our policymakers and advocating for the wellbeing of New Jersey’s children. Last year, we worked with the state to combat our Black maternal mortality crisis, advocated for universal home visiting and preschool for all, put the state's kids and their families at the center of a roundtable discussion with federal leaders, rallied for the release of critical American Rescue Plan dollars for child care, and helped hundreds of parents resolve school issues.

Your donations help us in our mission to give every child a chance to grow up safe, healthy and educated, using data to drive effective policy solutions to support children and their caregivers. Before the year ends, consider a tax-deductible donation to ACNJ, and help us continue our successes into 2022 and beyond.

ACNJ Thanks Our Generous Breakfast Sponsors