What’s New?

Share with Legislators ACNJ president’s Op-ed supporting legislative bills to invest in child care.

It's time to address the long-time child care crisis in New Jersey.  The pandemic didn’t create it – it exposed it.

Let's urge legislators to support Senate Majority Leader Teresa Ruiz's comprehensive package of bills that would help parents, strengthen programs and support staff. One bill, S-2476 (pending introduction), incentivizes the development of child care for infants and toddlers, the most difficult for families to find.

Share the op-ed authored by ACNJ President Cecilia Zalkind describing this historic proposal.

The package comes with a $360 million price tag. But we need to tell state leaders that this is an investment we cannot afford not to make.

Read the Op-Ed

New Jersey's commitment to children has led to extraordinary advances, putting the state ahead of the rest of the country and most importantly, improving the lives and well-being of newborns and preschool-age children.

But we are still missing the babies.

Let's make some noise for child care  and take a moment to send a message to your state leaders that this is a critical investment for children, families and for our economy.

During this legislative session, ACNJ is calling on the state to:

  • Improve access to infant/toddler care by increasing the number of available child care programs;
  • Expand child care assistance for parents of very young children; and
  • Support the child care workforce, who have historically been underfunded and underappreciated
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Unlocking Potential: Our Ambitious Roadmap to Close Inequities for NJ Babies

In order to give all children a strong and equitable start in life, New Jersey must begin with an intentional focus on eliminating racial inequities and disparities in access to essential supports, according to a new report, Unlocking Potential, released today by Advocates for Children of New Jersey (ACNJ).

Read Unlocking Potential, A Roadmap to Making New Jersey the Safest, Healthiest and Most Supportive Place to Give Birth and Raise a Family

The statewide plan, funded by the Pritzker Children's Initiative (PCI), provides the action steps needed to achieve concrete targets related to early childhood development with the goal of ensuring an additional 25 percent of low-income infants and toddlers - 27,000 young children - will have access to high-quality services by 2023. These supports include access to quality child care, home visiting, health and mental health services.

Unlocking Potential is based on the belief that we all have a role to play in achieving equity and that supporting equal opportunities at the start of a child’s life is the first step in eliminating disparities that impact outcomes for babies, families and communities. The foundation for change is in place; the opportunity is now!

 

Check out our accomplishments in the 2022 ACNJ Annual Report

View our 2022 Wins for Children 

As we reflect on this year’s achievements, and look to opportunities ahead, we know our wins for children would not be possible without our many supporters and partners. Please consider making a donation to help us continue our work to ensure every child has the chance to grow up safe, healthy and educated.

Let’s get the job done for families that need home visiting services.

The Maternal Infant and Early Childhood Home Visiting (MIECHV) Program, the primary source of funding for New Jersey’s robust home visiting system, expired on September 30, 2022. While MIECHV has been included in the Continuing Resolution through December, Congress must act now to ensure the program is reauthorized and there is no lapse in funding. Otherwise, more than 5,000 New Jersey families annually stand to lose effective home visiting services that improve children's health, school readiness and economic security.

Advocacy efforts have led to the introduction of The Jackie Walorski Maternal and Child Home Visiting Act of 2022 (HR 8876), named after the late Congresswoman, a champion for home visiting. It reauthorizes the MIECHV Program for five years, providing the first-ever funding increase to the program since its creation over a decade ago. This legislation must pass to ensure families in New Jersey and across the country will continue to receive these critical services. Thank Congressman Menendez for his ongoing support of the Maternal Infant Early Childhood Home Visiting Program (MIECHV) and urge him to keep MIECHV as a priority for the end of the year package.

Watch the Recording – ACNJ/DCF Fall Virtual Forum

On October 18th, Advocates for Children of New Jersey and the New Jersey Department of Children and Families hosted the 2022 Virtual Fall Forum. Attendees received updates on the latest news and data regarding the Department's efforts, and learned about forthcoming opportunities to further assist New Jersey children and families to be safe, healthy, educated and connected.

Promoting Preventive Health Among New Jersey’s Children

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Posted 10/26/2022

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By Alana Vega
ACNJ Health Policy Analyst and Youth Engagement Coordinator

Well-child visits, also known as check-ups or routine pediatrician visits, are an important part of preventative healthcare for children and adolescents. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends a “periodicity schedule” for children beginning when they are just a few days old through 21 years of age. According to AAP, children ages three and older should receive annual check-ups with their providers, while younger children should see a doctor more frequently. These check-ups are important for a variety of reasons, including disease prevention through regularly scheduled immunizations, testing a child’s blood for traces of lead and tracking a child’s developmental milestones. Visits are also important for parents. In addition to providing a chance to ask questions and raise concerns, pediatric visits are an opportunity to screen mothers for signs of maternal depression.

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, several entities, including Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), highlighted a national decline in routine well-child visits. Several factors may have lead to this. In 2020, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidance encouraged health providers to delay non-emergency services in an effort to target resources to combat the pandemic. Additionally, parent concerns regarding exposure to COVID may have contributed to fewer visits. Although there was some evidence of an increase in pediatric care conducted via telehealth, these visits did not offset the declines.

One study indicates that missed visits were reported more for certain age groups than others--with nearly half of children ages 2-6 and 7-12 missing well-visits. Comparatively, roughly a quarter of parents of children under age 2 reported missing a routine visit. The same study indicated a higher prevalence of missed visits among Hispanic children in comparison to other racial groups; non-Hispanic Black children had the lowest rate of missed visits.

CareOral Health for Kids -- Did You Know?

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Children should visit the dentist twice a year – beginning at age one! Many parents are unaware their children should see a dentist so young. Preventive dental care is an essential part of good healthcare, just as important as immunizations and wellness visits. Dental disease can harm a child’s overall well‐being and has been linked to illnesses such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes and strokes. To find a dentist, parents should contact their insurance company or HMO. NJ FamilyCare, New Jersey's publicly funded health insurance program, covers oral health for children.

Lead Testing and Routine Immunizations

The decline in well-visits had a domino effect on blood lead tests and routine immunizations among children. In March 2021, the New Jersey Department of Health (NJDOH) announced a partnership with the New Jersey Chapter of American Academy of Pediatrics, in response to a decline in the number of children under age 17 screened for the presence of lead in their blood. The NJDOH annual Childhood Lead Exposure in New Jersey report, covering State Fiscal Year (SFY) 2020, showed that 78% of children turning 3 years old during SFY 2020 had at least one blood lead test in their lifetime. One year prior, 90% of children turning 3 years old had received at least one blood lead test. Early identification of lead is critical; lead is a toxic metal that can cause lifelong harm to mental and physical health. The CDC maintains that there is no safe level of lead for children.

Early reporting during the pandemic also pointed to a decrease in vaccination rates among children between March-May 2020. Subsequent CDC research showed that despite a rebound in vaccination rates from June-September 2020, rates had not recovered to sufficient levels needed to catch children up on their scheduled immunizations. In New Jersey, Annual Immunization Status Report (ASR) data show that the percentage of school aged-children in compliance with immunization requirements has decreased between the 2017-18 and 2021-22 school years (from 94.6% of students to 92.6%). All public and private schools in New Jersey are required to annually report vaccination status of students enrolled in child care, preschool, entry level grades (kindergarten or 1st grade), 6th grade and among transfer students.

Number and Percentage of Children Meeting All Immunization Requirements

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What Can Be Done?

Well-visits are a core component of ensuring lifelong health for children. Missing scheduled immunizations can cause children to have vaccine preventable diseases that can lead to severe illness. And lead exposure can lead to impaired brain development that cannot be reversed--even when young children are exposed at very low levels. ACNJ supported S1507, a bill requiring blood lead testing for children before enrolling in preschool and kindergarten.  This bill intends to strengthen New Jersey’s existing universal lead screening requirements by connecting blood lead testing with school enrollment.

Beyond legislative action, there are some steps we can all take to remind families of the importance of preventive healthcare for children. Parents can use this opportunity to schedule a visit with their child’s pediatrician. Tools like the CDC’s free Milestone Tracker App allow parents to track their child’s development, and to identify any concerns or questions they may have for their next pediatrician visit.

Additionally, programs like HealthySteps, which utilize a team-based approach, can be effective models to ensure that children are reaching their developmental milestones and to provide targeted support to families. Currently there are three practices in New Jersey that implement the Healthy Steps model, with plans to expand the program to eight new sites in Camden in Newark over the next few years. Parents can use this tool to see if there is a site nearby.

As the end of 2022 draws near, we owe it to Garden State children to ensure they are building a healthy foundation for future success.

Pediatricians, you play an important role too!

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 A JAMA Pediatrics study indicates a few different strategies for pediatricians to help families catch-up on well visits:

  • Consider using sick visits (when appropriate) as an opportunity to promote vaccination and potentially utilize the time to discuss preventative health.
  • Contact families directly to remind them of missed vaccines. While phone calls are helpful, text messages could be especially effective at reaching lower-income families.
  • Leverage partnerships with organizations that have strong relationships with families, children and adolescents. Though physicians are parents’ most trusted source of information regarding child vaccinations, broadening outreach efforts could be critical to reaching harder to reach populations, such as disconnected youth.
  • Partner with school districts as vaccination sites -- another effective way to reach families.

Nine Takeaways from Celebrate Babies Week 2022

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Posted 10/26/2022

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By Hannah Korn-Heilner
ACNJ Outreach and Policy Associate

Last week, in partnership with the New Jersey Association for Infant Mental Health (NJ-AIMH) and Montclair State University’s Center for Autism and Early Childhood Mental Health, ACNJ participated in Celebrate Babies Week, a national initiative highlighting the mental health needs of young children. This year, our theme was “Early Relational Health: It’s Everyone’s Business.” Throughout the week, ACNJ and our partners engaged families, professionals and policymakers around the state to call attention to the needs of our youngest children. Here are ten takeaways:

  1. Babies have mental health needs too! “I didn’t even know babies could have mental health issues,” Assembly Women and Children’s Committee Chair Gabriela Mosquera remarked at last Thursday’s hearing focused on this topic. And she’s not alone. Babies are often left out of the conversation, yet supporting an infant’s social and emotional growth can have a profound effect on their lives as adults. Watch the NJ Spotlight video on the hearing.
  2. It’s about relationships. Healthy emotional well-being grows from positive connections between babies and their caregivers. These safe, stable and nurturing relationships create an environment in which babies develop the capacity to express emotions, develop relationships and explore. Watch a recording of the webinar presented by Dr. Kaitlin Mulcahy Director at CAECMH focused on Early Relational Health (Passcode: ERH2022! ).
  3. It takes a village. From child care providers to home visitors, doulas, policymakers and, of course, mental health clinicians, we can all do our part in supporting the mental health of babies. On Wednesday, we held a career and networking night. Didn’t get a chance to join? Visit the New Jersey Association for Infant Mental Health.
  4. A mother’s wellness directly affects the baby. From not having enough time off to recuperate after giving birth and bond with the baby, a lack of support for maternal mental health, difficulty breastfeeding in the workplace, the rising costs of diapers and the continued struggle to find formula, parents have a lot on their plate – all while trying to mentally and physically be present for their children. Participants at ACNJ’s Dine and Discuss virtual meeting on infant mental health highlighted how there needs to be stronger programs and policies to better support families.
  5. Wraparound services at pediatrician’s offices work. HealthySteps is a model being piloted in New Jersey that places a specialist, usually a licensed behavioral health provider, in a pediatric office to address family needs and connect families to services and resources. This removes the burden from parents having to navigate an often complicated mental and behavioral health system. Read about why we should expand this program throughout the state.
  6. New Jersey should be making it easier - not harder - for families to access services as early on as possible. Often, a formal diagnosis is required for insurance to reimburse for mental health services. This prevents families from accessing services until the need is significant. The stigma of a diagnosis also deters many from even seeking treatment. Check out our blog on creating a preventative behavioral health benefit.
  7. Your advocacy is critical! Last week, mother Karma testified about the importance of the HealthySteps program. We need more champions like her! New Jersey has a Congressional Election on November 8th - check out our guide to find out who is running.
  8. There’s a hotline for professionals working with young children. Last year for Celebrate Babies Week 2021, we highlighted the SEFI program, which provides consultants for child care programs that need help supporting the emotional and behavioral needs of their young children. This year, CAECMH launched a Quick Connection hotline for professionals working with young children. Learn more.
  9. Early Relational Health is everyone’s business. Ensuring that young children and their families have the services and resources they need is not only good for our society, but it’s just good business! And for every dollar invested there is a return of $3.64

Early relational health remains an important factor in the healthy development of infants. Everyone - from parents, to providers, to policymakers - plays a role. Follow ACNJ for more information on this and other ways you can advocate for babies in New Jersey.