Booker, Facebook Fund Respond to Newark Kids Count

Contact: Nancy Parello, Communications Director, Advocates for Children of New Jersey, (973) 643-3876, (908) 399-6031 (c),

Saying Newark is in a state of “crisis” because it is “losing its children,” Mayor Cory Booker responded to a new report with a plan to get Newark children off to a strong start, prenatally and through their first three years.

To help support that effort, the Foundation for Newark’s Future promised a $250,000 seed grant to jump-start action and challenged other foundations to match those funds, said Greg Taylor, president of the foundation, which is administering the $100 million donated to Newark by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.

Both spoke at the release of Newark Kids Count, an annual report published by Advocates for Children of New Jersey. This year’s report focuses on children from birth to three years.

Among the startling data in the report was that three-quarters of Newark children start out in low-income families that struggle to meet their basic needs. This can seriously damage their lifelong chances for success. These babies also face other significant health and safety stresses, which are especially hazardous during the first years when children grow and develop faster than at any other time of life.

“Our kids are coming out of the womb with the odds against them,” Booker said at the event, held at the Unified Vailsburg Services Organization, which operates a variety of programs, including child care centers.  “What this data shows me is that we will never be successful in our work with 7-year-olds, 8- year-olds, 15-year-olds, unless we start dealing with prenatal care to 3-years old.”

“We’re condemning them to lives of struggle, mediocrity, failure. We have to take responsibility for that. I take responsibility for that,” the mayor added.

Booker said that he had a “painful” and “emotional” night after going over the statistics in the report with his staff. He told the audience of about 150 people that he would not give them “platitudes,” but demanded real action from himself and the broader Newark community.

To that end, the mayor charged ACNJ Executive Director Cecilia Zalkind, Annette Strickland, program and administrative officer for the Schumann Fund of New Jersey and La’Tanya Williamson, director of Newark’s Department of Child and Family Well-Being, with convening an Early Childhood Policy Council and identifying the council’s priorities and ways to measure concrete change for Newark’s youngest children. They have 30 days to come up with that plan.

“We have to come together, set some priorities, set some measurable goals and align our resources, energy and activities around achieving those goals,” Booker said.

Zalkind commended these actions, but noted they are only first steps that require strong follow through to finally make a difference for Newark children.

“The time is right to change the starting line so we have a stronger finish line,” Zalkind said, renewing calls for leadership from the business community. “In other states, business leaders have stepped up and made a difference, understanding that improving early childhood is an effective form of economic development. When you give kids the right start, things turn out better for everyone — for children, for families, for communities and for taxpayers.”

Read the full report.