Center-based child care options for NJ infants and toddlers in short supply, new study finds
While finding child care is a challenge for many working parents, a new study reveals a deep shortage of options for New Jersey’s very young children. The report, No Room for Babies: Center-Based Infant-Toddler Child Care in Short Supply by Advocates for Children of New Jersey (ACNJ), finds that less than a third of children under age 3 have access to child care to help them grow and develop.
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“Sixty-six percent of young children in New Jersey have both parents in the workforce, meaning that more than 207,000 infants and toddlers depend on some type of child care. However, licensed centers in the Garden State only have the capacity to serve roughly 55,600 of these children, leaving more than 150,000 without the option of center-based care,” said Cecilia Zalkind, ACNJ president and CEO. “This results in gaps in child care availability for parents who prefer center-based care.”
Funded by The Nicholson Foundation, the report found that the availability of licensed infant-toddler child care varies across the state. Bergen, Morris and Somerset counties reported the greatest numbers of available slots to serve infants and toddlers in licensed centers, while Passaic and several southern counties – Ocean, Atlantic and Cape May – had the least available space.
Ocean County was last in the percentage of center-based care availability, able to serve only 14 percent of the 16,100 infants and toddlers likely to need care. Somerset ranked first among all 21 counties, with space in licensed centers able to serve 45 percent of the county’s 6,900 very young children needing child care.
The study also found pockets of child care “deserts” in high-need communities where few, if any, centers exist. In Pemberton Township, Fairfield (Cumberland County) and Long Branch (where 61 percent of public school students are eligible for the federal school meals program), there are no centers within their city limits licensed to care for infants and toddlers.
“For working parents, access to high-quality infant and toddler care featuring well-trained teachers, safe environments, appropriate supplies and small class size is vital. But with such a gap between the supply of and need for these services, parents have a hard time simply finding available space for their child,” said Arturo Brito, Executive Director of The Nicholson Foundation.
The higher cost of child care for infants impacts availability. “The high cost of providing infant child care, which requires a lower staff-child ratio – one caregiver to every four infants and additional facility accommodations – ultimately reduces the market for this type of care, resulting in fewer slots,” Zalkind said. This is especially true for parents who rely on child care subsidies, as centers that accept child care subsidies often find that they cannot cover costs when it comes to caring for babies.
The low child care subsidy rates, which have not been increased for nearly a decade, make it impossible to hire qualified teachers, pay adequate salaries and cover costs. Centers caring for infants receive a subsidy rate of $160 per child per week – or $4 an hour. This subsidy rate structure does not account for the costs of higher requirements for infant care, making it even more difficult for programs to serve babies.
In the report, ACNJ lays out the following recommendations to address the shortage of high-quality infant‐toddler care:
- Increase the subsidy reimbursement rate for infants under 18 months to reflect the true cost of delivering child care for this population.
- Create a multi-tiered reimbursement system that could motivate providers serving infants and toddlers to move up the quality ladder.
- Require all staff providing direct caregiving services to infants and toddlers to have a minimum of an Infant-Toddler Child Development Associate (CDA) Certificate, preferably credit bearing, or an NJ Infant-Toddler Credential.
- Strengthen systems of support to encourage and reward infant-toddler caregivers to continue their education.