Blog: Let’s Reimagine a Child Care System that Benefits Us All

Posted on June 4, 2021

June 3, 2021

It's Time for Bold Action. Let's Reimagine the Child Care System We Need and Want.

Cecilia Zalkind, ACNJ President & CEO

The NJ Department of Human Services (DHS recently held a required public hearing on the Child Care Development Block Grant (CCDBG) plan, due on July 1, that states must submit to the federal government every three years. This year’s plan was different: states were also asked to describe what they intended to do with the federal American Rescue Plan (ARP) funds, which will bring almost $700 million for child care to New Jersey.

ACNJ submitted detailed testimony based on the input we received from hundreds of parents and providers who participated in our recent Reimagine Child Care town halls, as well as the many events and conversations that ACNJ has held this past year.

I decided to talk about opportunity.

We are at a crossroads. We can continue to shore up our existing system with band-aids and short-term solutions. Or we can work together to reimagine the child care system we need and want. The federal ARP funding gives us the opportunity to get it right. Here are five ways to do that:

  • Fund child care as a public good, affordable and available to all families who need it. Treat it as one system: for-profit, nonprofit, supported by parent fees, supported by subsidy, with varied delivery models, including Early Head Start and family child care. Make the investments needed to provide equitable access for all families who need child care. Raise the income eligibility levels for parents to qualify for subsidy. Change documentation policies that shut
    parents out. Include families at higher income levels. And let’s stop calling it subsidy and call it what it is: tuition assistance.
  • Value the child care workforce as the essential service it is. Our testimony has detailed recommendations for immediate, mid-term and long-term solutions to address the staffing crisis. Bottom line: child care staff must be well-prepared, supported and adequately compensated. Look at the salary scales of police, firemen and teachers as a guide. That’s how important child care professionals are to children, families and our communities.
  • Be bold about developing more options for infants and toddlers. Child care for infants and toddlers remains in short supply. It is time for bold action. How about a state investment in Early Head Start or an early education program for children under age 3 living in high-need communities, aligned with preschool? This is the opportunity to think big.
  • Elevate and invest in family child care. There is no state-level vision or organized effort to elevate and support family child care as the valuable resource it is. The number of registered home-based providers continues to drop; there is little incentive to register and none to participate in Grow NJ Kids, to meet quality improvement standards, since they are not included in tiered reimbursement. At the same time, there are innovative efforts underway in pockets of the state, most funded privately. United Way’s United in Care is one model. Build on those efforts and develop a vision and plan for a well-supported home-based system.
  • Open the door and partner with us. Parents, providers and advocates all have a stake in this plan. We are all needed to make this incredible opportunity to reimagine child care a reality. Parents, especially, must be included in all decisions. As we heard from parents at Strolling Thunder last week, they know the importance of quality child care both to help them work and to support the healthy development of their children. As one parent said, quality child care can change a child’s life forever, but a child’s future should not depend on the parent’s ability to pay.