Share Your Story – Jennifer

Parent Voices: Child care through the lens of a mother and provider #ForTheChildren

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.

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Parent Voices: Child care through the lens of a mother and provider


Jennifer Santana knows the importance of child care for babies as both an Early Head Start manager as well as a mother. However, she also acknowledges the high cost of quality for both the family and for the provider. Read her story.

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Parent Voices: Challenges after finding child care


"I had to call out of work a lot and employers who don't have children just don't understand."

"If you're a working parent, there's only so many days that you got that you can call out before it starts to be an issue."

"Sometimes, you have to choose, do I need my money? Or do I need to choose my child? I got released from my job because I had to keep calling out. But at the end of the day, I had to be a mom."

Parent Voices: Child care subsidies


"I don't feel like there's a lot of quality day cares and it's kind of like factory-run, especially in low-income day cares."

"All children should be treated the same way, even if you have a subsidy. They deserve to be in a safe place and they deserve to have resources available to them."

"The cost is usually quite a factor. If you and your husband are both working, you don't qualify because you're not poor enough. Just five dollars can put you out of the program."

Parent Voices: Unaffordable


"I only earn enough to cover the babysitter and food. If work is slow, I sometimes can't pay the babysitter so I have to stay home."

"I'm going to be working to pay for child care - it's crazy!"

"What I paid in child care was what it cost for me to go to college for a year!"

"The cost is usually quite a factor. With two people having to work, one of them is just working for the babysitter."

Parent Voices: Quality missing


"I walked in and there were, like, 8 toddlers lying on the floor in the dark watching a TV show and I was like, 'Are you kidding me!?"


"They actually had dirty cribs sitting outside, trash, flies, and all of that. All the strollers and everything piled on top of others in the hallway."


"Every time I come up there, there's a different teacher in his room. I'm like, 'Okay, who are you? You're not the person I met last week."

Parent Voices: Quality costs


"I always say the teacher in the baby room taught me how to be a mom."

"It is ridiculously expensive but they're teaching your children so much. I'm fortunate to have found what we found."

"I'm like, thank God for them because they actually know how to raise children. You know you have educators raising your children as opposed to a parent who no one gave me that book."

Parent Voices: What they look for in child care


"Someone who was right for my child and right for my family."


"It had to be clean, it had to be safe, it had to have good parent recommendations, and allow me to stay with her or watch over to make sure she does okay and pop in and out whenever."


"A place where you will find qualified people that will provide love, learning, teaching, safety. We just want to protect her and give her the best."

Parent Voices: Quality child care


"You have no idea what you're supposed to be looking at."


"I was pregnant and I had no clue what I was getting into. I toured places and I brought my mom and she was hesitant. I'm like, 'But this is my only option - this is it!'"


"I just felt so helpless during that whole time period. If there was a secure door, and people generally seemed happy, that child care center was ok with me, because I just felt desperate."

Parent Voices: What needs to happen


"Make it more available. Because the issue here is not being able to even get to child care or have child care. Make it more accessible, more affordable, and less problems in the registration."


"We need an actual substantive comparison that you can make, more options, good options, would have been less frustrating."


"Let the government know child care matters and that they recognize the strain on families."

Parent Voices: When to begin?


"You have to do it before you conceive!"


"I didn't realize how much in advance you needed to secure a spot... I went to a few day cares and they [said] we have one spot left and there were all these other families touring.... You have to make this huge decision and you have 24 hours to make it! I put my name on waiting lists before we even moved here. They [the child care center] were my first call, they were the first people after my family to find out I was pregnant."

Parent Voices: Flexible hours


"The majority of my background is sales, so people want to hire you for nights and weekends and I don't have weekend help at all."


"It depends on the kind of occupation that you have that determines the hours you need, especially if you work at nighttime.... I guess you have to have someone you trust watch them at nighttime."


"We need a 24-hour day care and with shifts in it because some people work at night."

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