Jennifer Santana knows the importance of child care for babies as both an Early Head Start manager as well as a mother. Babies that have consistent interaction in a stable learning environment tend to be more productive adults later in life. But in New Jersey, where the median weekly cost of center-based child care for infants is $250 per week, child care can be more of a luxury that many parents, including Jennifer, simply could not afford.
“I’ve been working with infants and toddlers for 20 years. I know what quality should look like,” she states. “But even for somebody like me who is a middle-income earner, I couldn’t find programs to put my child in that I was comfortable with.” Eventually, after visiting many programs that were either too low-quality or way out of her budget, Jennifer had chosen a center that was convenient and within her budget. However, even then she said, “What I paid in child care was what it cost for me to go to college for a year!”
New Jersey falls short in delivering affordable, reliable child care options for working parents, as centers struggle to provide quality child care that parents can afford. Centers in low-income communities, in particular, are hardest hit. As an early childhood professional, Jennifer knows first-hand how difficult it is for providers to deliver quality care while operating on shoestring budgets. One of the biggest challenges is finding and keeping qualified staff, especially for the infant rooms. Many teachers prefer preschool classrooms because there is often higher pay for less physical labor. “We have such great caregivers and they leave because they can go to McDonald’s and make $15 an hour, which not only pays more but is simpler than caring for a baby.”
Child care is the first education experience most children have, but for too long, it has been underfunded and underinvested, especially for babies. Affordable, quality child care has the potential to help the entire family. Jennifer hopes that one day, every child will benefit.