What’s New?

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

Posted on April 21, 2022

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

Posted on June 24, 2020

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!

 

Take Action: Urge legislators to co-sponsor budget resolution numbers 4342 (Senate) & 4326 (Assembly)

Posted on June 14, 2024

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ACNJ is advocating for $35 million in the State Fiscal Year 2025 Budget to support the child care workforce.

    • This funding would establish a pilot program to expand eligibility for child care subsidies to educators and staff who typically do not qualify.
    • The benefit would help offset out-of-pocket costs for child care staff and incentivize them to remain in the field.
    • Retaining these essential workers and strengthening the workforce is vital to ensuring New Jersey’s child care system is strong and stable.

Send an email today and urge the Legislature to prioritize investment in the child care infrastructure!

Invest in the child care workforce to ensure access to high-quality care and education for working families. Send an email to legislators today!

ACNJ Welcomes Newest Board Members

Posted on June 12, 2024

ACNJ is excited to welcome our newest board members: Heather Baker, Dr. Arnold Rabson, David Sims, and a familiar face -- Laurence (Larry) Fundler, who is rejoining the board after a break. United by a deep concern for the well-being of New Jersey's children, they collectively bring a wealth of expertise, knowledge, and lived experiences that will contribute greatly to our dynamic board.

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Heather Baker, Banking Center Manager, Provident Bank, Hazlet, NJ
Baker was awarded a NJ Bankers Rising Star Award in 2019 and was named one of the Top 40 Managers Under 40. She was also assigned as a Bee-Hive leader and mentor for the Provident Women organization. She is currently serving as a Board Member for Eastern Monmouth Area Chamber of Commerce and was recently awarded the 2024 Next Generation Leader award for her work in utilizing the chamber for career development and business growth. Baker obtained an Associate’s Degree in Social Science from Brookdale Community College and received a Bachelor’s of Science in Labor Management and Employee Relations from Rutgers University. Aside from work, Heather is also a full time working mom of two amazing boys, Lorenzo and Tyler, and married to her wonderful husband Wayne for ten amazing years. The Baker family are hockey enthusiasts and dedicated New Jersey Devils fans. Weekends consist of watching her sons play in their hockey games, tournaments, and just making sure they are being the best they can be!
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Laurence Fundler, Esq., Manager for the National Estate Tax Services, Bank of America, Co-Owner of Jola Coffee
Fundler practiced as a tax/trusts and estates attorney from 1993 to 2005. In 2005, he left the practice of law to manage the operations of his family’s catering business as the President/Director of Sales and Events. Fundler returned to the practice of law in 2014 and continued practicing as an attorney until joining Bank of America. He had been admitted to the State Bar of New Jersey, State Bar of New York, U.S. Supreme Court, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey, among others. Fundler earned an LL.M. in Taxation from New York University of Law, a J.D. Cum Laude from Western New England College School of Law and a B.A. in Political Science from New York University. In addition, Fundler and his wife, Jodi, opened a specialty coffee house in North Caldwell, NJ in 2017 called Jola Coffee. They continue to own and operate Jola Coffee. Fundler gives Jodi all credit for Jola’s success.
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Dr. Arnold B. Rabson, MD, Biology, Director at The Child Health Institute of New Jersey, Rutgers-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School (RWJMS) and Professor of Pharmacology; Pediatrics; and Pathology and Laboratory Medicine at Rutgers-RWJMS
Dr. Rabson is also a Professor for the Department of Pediatrics at University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ)-RWJMS. Since 1990, he has served as a Resident Scientist at the Center for Advanced Biotechnology and Medicine, Viral Pathogenesis Laboratory. Dr. Rabson was also an Associate Professor at the Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics and at the Department of Pathology at UMDNJ-RWJMS. He held many roles at The Cancer Institute of New Jersey, including Deputy Director and the Program Leader for the Transcriptional Regulation and Oncogenesis Program. Dr. Rabson has been a member of several organizations and committees, including the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Society of Microbiology and the American Association for Cancer Research. Dr. Rabson was presented with many honors and awards over the years, such as the Cancer Institute of New Jersey Foundation Trustees Award for Distinguished Leadership and Achievement, and most recently, the Distinguished Alumni Award from The Sidwell Friends Scholl in Washington DC. Dr. Rabson earned a Sc.B. from Brown University and an M.D. from BU’s Program in Medicine.
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David E. Sims, Director of Stakeholder Engagement at NJ Safe Babies Court Team/Child Focus
Sims spent nearly 40 years with the New Jersey Department of Children and Families (DCF) and the Division of Child Protection and Permanency (DCPP) before retiring in 2023. Sims served more than 12 years as DCPP's Essex County Area Director, making progressive changes while managing the operations of six Child Welfare Local Offices and an Area Office. He served as DCF and DCPP Deputy Director for more than 3 years and as DCPP's Union County Area Director for four years. Sims was a member of the New Jersey Governor's Blue Ribbon Panel on Child Protection Services, was on the Multi-Disciplinary Child Fatality Review Team, and served as the Co-Chair of DCF's Statewide Race and Equity Steering Committee tasked with identifying implicit bias racism and reducing racial disparity in the child welfare system. Sims is a graduate of Pennsylvania State University, where he received a BA in Psychology with a math minor.

Q&A with Peter Bullock, The Black Dad Doula

Posted on June 12, 2024

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ACNJ staff writer Keith Hadad, recently spoke with Peter Bullock, founder of Hey Black Dad, about his dad doula practice, what brought him to this line of work, and much more.

Peter Bullock is blazing a new path for dads and families across New Jersey with his doula work, Hey Black Dad. Through in-person and virtual sessions, Bullock assists men who are transitioning into fatherhood by educating them on how to best support their birthing partner through their prenatal and postpartum pregnancy journey.

Can you please explain what you do as a dad doula?

Peter Bullock: So becoming a parent and going into parenthood is a rite of passage. There have been unknown paths to becoming a father, dad, parent. As a birth and postpartum doula, I assist fathers with their journey through the different stages of pregnancy, labor and postpartum. I make sure that the dads have the tools necessary to be the best support partners.

How long have you been practicing and what led you down this path? What is your background in that field, and what kind of training or courses did you have to take?

Peter: I've been practicing for about three years now. When my wife was pregnant with our daughter, she was telling me about the different stats when it comes to moms and specifically black moms. The high rates of maternal mortality in the black community. I knew I really had to get involved and get informed about all the different things that I could do to be the best support I could be, but I couldn't find a lot of information that was specific to men. Information that was specific to things that I could do that could help. So I was like, alright, I'm sure it's out there, but let me learn about what a doula is and how doulas could be supportive. So I went and I got the information. We also had a doula throughout our journey. Then shortly after the birth of our child, I decided to go and get certified as a full spectrum doula. I was trained by Mama Shafi Monroe, SMC doulas, and then I was certified by Mama Alaina Broach of Ahavah Birth and Beyond.

When you were going through training, did you run into any opposition or were you met with any stigma?

Peter: No, it was very accepting of my work with fathers. A lot of the other doulas were very happy to hear that I chose to specifically work with fathers. It's necessary. There are a lot of questions that dads have and sometimes dads just don't know that they're not the only ones that have these questions.

Why do you think fathers need the support of a doula?

Peter: Up until recently, dads kind of weren't super hands-on when it came to childbirth, but now, due to societal norms changing and dads having more time to be present, we're able to be more present and hands-on. Fathers are being encouraged to have more participation throughout the different stages. We’re so much more hands-on—I call these the 21st century fathers—we're hands-on, we want to be helpful, we want to be supportive, but at the same time, we don't want to break anything. Dads are really eager to help and assist, but we don't want to break anything, [therefore] we take a backseat and kind of just allow things to unfold the way that they naturally would. We don't like to look like we don't know what we're doing. So we don't ask questions [for fear of looking silly].

A dad could benefit from having a doula by having the tools needed to really support their birthing partner. A male doula would be able to share with dad, “Hey, this is how you could help. These are some of the things that you could do. These are some of the questions that you could ask when you're working with your partner, while she is expecting.” Like I said, dads don't want to break anything.. So that's where I come in. I help dads to have that confidence when it comes to assisting [their birthing partner] and having [the necessary] confidence when it comes to speaking with the [medical] care providers.

For example, one of the things that I do is provide dad questions they can ask the different medical care providers. Not only are they questions, but they're also answers that they should be looking for from the providers. That is helping to give dads a little bit more confidence to ask these questions [because] they know what answers to look for. Now dad has a more hands-on role and is no longer going to be like a fixture in the back of the room. He has the ability to really support and to be present [in the moment]. That's one of the things that male doulas can help with. We can give dads the tools needed to be supportive, but also the confidence necessary to [feel empowered to be] that support.

How would a community at large benefit from fathers taking a more active and engaged role during pregnancy and labor in the earliest phases of parenthood?

Peter: Fathers being engaged as early as possible, and I mean super early, would result in fathers having a stronger relationship and bond with their families. We already know the statistics that show how present fathers could benefit the community. There's going to be a higher graduation rate, the community's safer and the families benefit from fathers being present. Making sure that dads have the tools needed to be supportive as early as possible would benefit the community at large.

You spoke about the challenges of the black maternal health system before. How do you hope that your work would mitigate those kinds of issues?

Peter: I want to make sure that the fathers that I work with [have the following]

  1. The tools to feel confident and be able to speak up and tactfully advocate for their spouse.
  2. For the maternal healthcare system to be able to hear fathers’ voices when they voice their concerns. I want the dads that I work with to know how to advocate, speak and also assist.

Do you know of any other dad doulas in the state?

Peter: In the State of New Jersey, I do not know of any active dad doulas who are presently assisting fathers. [However], I do know of some outside of New Jersey.

What steps or programs would you recommend to somebody if they are interested in becoming a dad doula themselves?

Peter: First I would encourage them to ask themselves what is it that attracts them to this work. Then I would encourage them to go out and seek a credible organization that supports, educates, provides the certification and training they need to become a doula. Also, if they're looking to do something in New Jersey, speak with me @HeyBlackDad. I'd be happy to help to support them along their journey.

If someone was about to become a dad and wanted to work with you, what steps should they take?

Peter: They can reach out to me on www.heyblackdads.com, where there's a submission form that they can fill out. Then we'll have a quick discovery call, for me to see the best ways to assist and what resources I could offer. They can also reach out to me on Instagram @HeyBlackDad.

Editorial Note: This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity. These edits do not affect the essence of the discussion or the accuracy of the information presented.

Did you know over 250,000 children in New Jersey live below the poverty level?

Posted on June 11, 2024

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By Alena Siddiqui
Data Analyst

For more information on this topic or kids count data, contact Alena at asiddiqui@acnj.org

Did You Know Blog Banner

Poverty is commonly defined as the state of insufficiency or lacking financial resources, goods, and means of support. Poverty thresholds have been used in the United States since 1965, and are based on a basic food diet and adjusted for inflation and family size/composition. Poverty thresholds are not a perfect method of determining who is in poverty because these thresholds are uniform across the nation; however, the cost of living is not. States like New Jersey are known to have a higher cost of living and an income at 200% of the poverty level (about $59,000 for a family of four) is more reflective of a family who may be living paycheck to paycheck in the state.

Table 1 shows the 2022 federal poverty thresholds for a family of four--two adults and two children. A family making less than 100% of the federal poverty level is considered to be living in poverty. In 2022, an estimated 253,875, or 13%, of New Jersey children were living below the federal poverty level, which is less than in 2021 when there were an estimated 284,150, or 14%, of children living in poverty. As seen in Chart 1, the dispersion of children living below the poverty level appears to be more prevalent in the southern part of the state.

2022 Fed Pov Threshold T1

Of the 50 states, New Jersey has the second highest median income for households with children, trailing behind Massachusetts by $1,101. The median income for households with children has increased in New Jersey as a whole and numerous counties have seen a large increase according to the American Community Survey data. In 2022, New Jersey’s median income for households with children was $120,874, which is almost $9,000 higher than the previous year. This tells us that many New Jersey families with children are earning more money. In fact, almost all counties, with the exception of Cumberland, have median family incomes higher than $80,000.

New Jersey offers many types of assistance programs designed to help not only families in poverty, but those who may be considered low-income as well. Some of these programs include New Jersey FamilyCare and NJSNAP.

In March 2023, there were 934,905 NJ FamilyCare recipients under age 19 in New Jersey, 49,024 more than the previous year. Children (under 19) in families with incomes up to 355% of the federal poverty level are eligible for the state’s health insurance program. Since January 2023, immigration status is no longer a hindrance for children looking to apply for NJFamilyCare. NJ SNAP (formerly known as Food Stamps) is another program which helps families. There were 343,009 New Jersey children participating in the NJ SNAP program. Most of these children lived in Essex (16%), Hudson (12%), and Passaic (10%) counties. In order to be eligible for NJ SNAP, households must have a monthly income of less than 185% of the federal poverty level, among other requirements.

Chart 1

To learn more about family economic security in the state of New Jersey and by individual counties, please refer to New Jersey Kids Count 2024.

National KIDSCOUNT Ranks NJ 6th in Nation for Child Well-Being

Posted on June 10, 2024

New Jersey Ranks 6th in the 2024 KIDS COUNT Data Book as Advocates for Children of New Jersey Urges Focus on Equipping Kids to Learn and Addressing Economic Insecurity

50-State Data Show Poor Academic Outcomes, Too Many Children Living in Households Spending More Than Their Fair Share in Housing; Policymakers Must Act to Promote Kids' Future Success, Annie E. Casey Foundation Finds

NEWARK, NJ — New Jersey ranked sixth in the 2024 KIDS COUNT® Data Book, according to a 50-state report of recent data developed by the Annie E. Casey Foundation analyzing how kids are faring in post-pandemic America. Despite ranking second in education, a closer look at the data shows New Jersey leaders must do more to prepare children to learn so they are ready to earn when they reach adulthood. At stake nationally: hundreds of billions of dollars in future earnings and trillions of dollars in lost economic activity.

  • An astounding 62% of New Jersey’s 4th graders scored below proficient in reading and 67% of New Jersey’s 8th graders scored below proficient in math levels in the 2022 National Assessment for Educational Progress
  • The Garden State ranks second in the nation for its lowest student chronic absenteeism rate at 17%, following Idaho at 4%.
  • New Jersey families continue to face economic insecurity, ranking 26th in Economic Well-Being after ranking 29th last year. More than one-third (35%) of children live in households spending more than their fair share on housing costs.

“Third grade marks a pivotal year when students begin reading to learn, rather than learning to read. We know that a strong early care and education system can make a difference in giving our children the educational foundation they need to be successful in kindergarten and beyond. New Jersey’s preschool expansion efforts are exemplary. However, to ensure it is continued, partnerships between school districts and community child care centers in expanding preschool must also be strengthened,” said Mary Coogan, president/CEO of Advocates for Children of New Jersey, the state KIDS COUNT grantee. “It is also necessary to ensure families have access to supports and services they want to help their children thrive.”

Key findings from the most recent school year available (2021-2022) show that a third of New Jersey students experienced one or more adverse childhood experiences (ACES). Moreover, state averages mask disparities that affect students of color, kids in immigrant families and children from low-income families or attending low-income schools.

In its 35th year of publication, the KIDS COUNT® Data Book focuses on students’ lack of basic reading and math skills, a problem decades in the making but brought to light by the focus on learning loss during the COVID-19 pandemic. Unprecedented drops in learning from 2019 to 2022 amounted to decades of lost progress. Chronic absence has soared, with children living in poverty especially unable to resume their school day routines on a regular basis.

Each year, the Data Book presents national and state data from 16 indicators in four domains — economic well-being, education, health, and family and community factors — and ranks the states according to how children are faring overall.

The Casey Foundation report contends that the pandemic is not the sole cause of lower test scores:  Educators, researchers, policymakers and employers who track students’ academic readiness have been ringing alarm bells for a long time. U.S. scores in reading and math have barely budged in decades. Compared to peer nations, the United States is not equipping its children with the high-level reading, math and digital problem-solving skills needed for many of today’s fastest-growing occupations in a highly competitive global economy.

According to the report, this lack of readiness will result in major harm to the nation’s economy and to our youth as they join the workforce. Up to $31 trillion in U.S. economic activity hinges on helping young people overcome learning loss caused by the pandemic. Students who don’t advance beyond lower levels of math are more likely to be unemployed after high school. One analysis calculates the drop in math scores between 2019 and 2022 will reduce lifetime earnings by 1.6% for 48 million pandemic-era students, for a total of $900 billion in lost income.

However, some states have delayed spending their share of the $190 billion critical federal pandemic funding (Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief, or ESSER) that could help boost achievement.

According to FutureEd, for New Jersey, 26% of the third and largest round of funding, ESSER III, remained unspent as of  March 31, 2024. The deadline to allocate – not spend – this funding is September 30, 2024. Tens of billions of dollars set aside for schools will vanish forever if states do not act immediately.

The Foundation recommends the following:

  • To get kids back on track, we must make sure they arrive at the classroom ready to learn by ensuring access to low- or no-cost meals, a reliable internet connection, a place to study and time with friends, teachers and counselors. This year, Governor Phil Murphy expanded access to free school meals to more than 50,000 additional New Jersey students. The “Working Class Families Anti-Hunger Act” extends eligibility to families earning up to $67,200 a year, or 224% of the federal poverty level.
  • Expand access to intensive tutoring for students who are behind in their classes and missing academic milestones. Research has shown the most effective tutoring is in person, high dosage and tied directly to the school.
  • States should take advantage of all their allocated pandemic relief funding to prioritize the social, emotional, academic and physical well-being of students. As long as funds are obligated by the Sept. 30 deadline, states should have two more full years to spend them.
  • States and school systems should address chronic absence, so more students return to learn. Although New Jersey is among one of the few states that gather and report chronic absence data by grade, all of them should. ACNJ helped spearhead the 2018 legislation that required every district with a chronic absenteeism rate of 10% or higher to develop a corrective action plan to improve attendance. Tracking attendance data will inform future decision-making. Lawmakers should embrace positive approaches rather than criminalizing students or parents due to attendance challenges, because they may not understand the consequences of even a few days missed.
  • Policymakers should invest in community schools, public schools that provide wraparound support to kids and families. Natural homes for tutoring, mental health support, nutritional aid and other services, community schools use innovative and creative programs to support young learners and encourage parent engagement, which leads to better outcomes for kids.

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RELEASE INFORMATION

The 2024 KIDS COUNT® Data Book will be available at www.aecf.org. Additional information is available at www.aecf.org/databook. Journalists interested in creating maps, graphs and rankings in stories about the Data Book can use the KIDS COUNT Data Center at datacenter.aecf.org.

 

ABOUT ADVOCATES FOR CHILDREN OF NEW JERSEY

Advocates for Children of New Jersey is the trusted, independent voice putting children’s needs first for 45 years. Our work results in better laws and policies, more effective funding and stronger services for children and families. And it means that more children are given the chance to grow up safe, healthy, and educated. For more information, visit www.acnj.org.

 

ABOUT THE ANNIE E. CASEY FOUNDATION

The Annie E. Casey Foundation creates a brighter future for the nation’s young people by developing solutions to strengthen families, build paths to economic opportunity and transform struggling communities into safer and healthier places to live, work and grow. For more information, visit www.aecf.org. KIDS COUNT® is a registered trademark of the Annie E. Casey Foundation.