Rutgers Study: Essex County Child Care

The quality of care of infants and toddlers in living in Essex County’s largest cities was, on average, slightly lower than that received by young children in other parts of the state, especially for those being cared for in private homes, according to a recent study from the National Institute of Early Education Research at Rutgers University.

The Essex Infant/Toddler Quality Improvement Project (EQUIP) studied 91 infant-toddler classrooms in child care centers and 63 private homes that provide child care  for working parents in East Orange, Irvington, Newark and Orange.

This examination was part of a broader study of infant-toddler care across the state, which also found that the quality of care is, on average, largely lacking – a serious concern for young children who need nurturing, stimulating environments as their brain develops faster in their first years than at any other time.

The study scored infant toddler classrooms and homes on a scale of 1 to 7, with 5 being good and 7 being excellent. The average score for classrooms in these four cities was 4.09, slightly lower than the statewide average of 4.24.

Family home care scored even lower, however. “Approved” homes, which are selected by parents to receive a subsidy and typically are family, friends or neighbors, scored below 3 – or low quality. Those homes that are “registered” with the state and receive training and technical assistance scored better at 3.23, but still considered low-quality.

All settings scored highest on “interactions,” which means the supervision of children, discipline and interactions among staff and children and the children’s interactions with each other. On this important measure of quality, registered child care homes scored highest at 5.53, followed by centers at 5.13 and approved family homes at 4.42.

Both centers and family child care had the most difficulty with personal care routines, which includes health and safety practices, such as hand-washing and toileting, and activities and learning opportunities. In addition, the approved homes scored poorly on “program structure,” which includes scheduling, transitions and flexibility.

The report authors point to the quality of care and education now provided in state-funded preschools in 35 New Jersey districts, noting that the quality of this early care and education has improved tremendously since the state began funding and overseeing preschool in these districts roughly 14 years ago. Those same lessons, the report said, should be applied to child care for our youngest children living in towns across the state.

This includes:

  • Raising quality standards,
  • Improving teacher preparation,
  • Providing adequate funding,
  • Putting in place a continuous improvement system that would include coaching.

With the help of a federal grant, New Jersey is embarking on an effort to improve child care quality. Called Grow NJ Kids, this initiative is just getting underway in a handful of counties. The findings of this significant research should be used to inform that effort.

Key recommendations include:

  • Provide technical assistance and training, with priority given to counties with the highest percentage of low-scoring classrooms.
  • Increase funding to raise teachers’ salaries and give child care providers the resources they need to improve quality. This includes analyzing state reimbursement rates and developing recommendations to increases rates to more closely reflect the real cost of providing quality child care.
  • Enact systematic statewide improvements in formal teacher education and ongoing professional development, paired with a scholarship program and other financial incentives, to ensure teachers have adequate early childhood training.

Read the full report.