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Q&A with Peter Bullock, The Black Dad Doula

Posted on June 12, 2024


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

headshot Alena

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.



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.



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.



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.


Testimony on Public PreK Mixed-Delivery Model: We Must Also Support NJ’s Fragile Child Care Infrastructure

Posted on June 6, 2024


TO: Members of the Senate Education Committee

FROM: Shadaya Bennett, Senior Legislative Analyst, Advocates for Children of New Jersey

DATE: June 3, 2024

RE: New Jersey's Public Preschool Mixed-Delivery Model

Chairman Gopal, Majority Ruiz, and members of the committee, thank you for the opportunity to provide comments on New Jersey’s preschool mixed delivery system.

My name is Shadaya Bennett, and I am the Senior Legislative Analyst at the Advocates for Children of New Jersey.

ACNJ is committed to ensuring all children have access to high-quality care and education in safe and enriching environments. We know that access to high quality early care and education supports healthy development and provides a pathway to social, emotional, and academic success.

New Jersey has long been recognized as a national leader in providing high-quality preschool education. ACNJ has been at the forefront of those efforts. Over twenty years ago, ACNJ’s former President and CEO, Cecilia Zalkind, played a pivotal role in advocating before the State Supreme Court for high-quality standards in New Jersey’s state-funded preschool programs. Her efforts, along with the Early Care Coalition, were instrumental in initiating the Abbott v. Burke decision, which mandated public preschool in 31 of the state’s most economically disadvantaged districts. This decision laid the foundation for New Jersey’s nationally recognized mixed delivery preschool model, and paved the way for preschool expansion.

More recently, ACNJ has also been at the forefront of raising awareness about preschool expansion and helping community providers navigate related processes to promote collaboration and equip stakeholders with the necessary tools to serve children effectively.

As New Jersey expands access to free public preschool, we want to highlight the need for a strong system that supports the continuum of care for children birth to age five. While we fully support universal pre-K, we recognize that there are unintended consequences related to expansion which negatively impact our already fragile child care system. Therefore, New Jersey must be deliberate in structuring and expanding preschool delivery while considering the sustainability of the child care infrastructure to prevent reducing the availability of infant and toddler slots, which could lead to child care center closures and restricted access for families statewide.

We recommend that New Jersey adopt a strong, well-conceived mixed-delivery system. This would include creating sustainable partnerships between school districts and community providers; aligning classroom size requirements with Department of Children and Families licensing standards; and supporting the workforce through provisions, such as, pay parity between in district and provider site teachers. Additionally, to incentivize school districts to partner with community providers, it is recommended that a certain percentage of funding for new preschool expansion aid be designated for those that commit to partnering with providers in the community through mixed-delivery. These are all examples of measures that would mitigate barriers for community providers who seek to participate in the statewide preschool program and would foster a more inclusive and effective early care and education landscape.

While we all recognize that a mixed-delivery system is essential to achieving New Jersey's mission of providing high-quality preschool at no cost to families, it is imperative to preserve programs that already offer vital supports to the same population. Child care is everyone’s business. Providers operate small businesses that provide a public good. Child care is the system by which our youngest residents are nurtured and educated outside of the home and it plays a crucial role in our state’s economic ecosystem. Therefore, supporting its infrastructure within our broader education system through a solid mixed-delivery system is vital.

I now turn it over to my colleague, Dr. Winifred Smith-Jenkins, who with over twenty years of unique experience and expertise in early childhood education can elaborate on the challenges within the system and recommended solutions.

Testimony on Public PreK Mixed-Delivery Model: Barriers to Collaboration and Fractures in the Current System

Posted on June 6, 2024


TO: Members of the Senate Education Committee

FROM: Winifred Smith-Jenkins, Director of Early Learning Policy and Advocacy, Advocates for Children of New Jersey

DATE: June 3, 2024

RE: New Jersey's Public Preschool Mixed-Delivery Model

Thank you so much for holding this hearing on mixed delivery and for allowing me the opportunity to speak today. My name is Winifred Smith-Jenkins, and I am the Director of Early Learning for Policy and Advocacy at ACNJ.

Before working at ACNJ, I spent twenty years as a child care director for our family-owned small businesses. Last year, I transitioned to advocacy because I believe our child care system is on the verge of collapse. Please understand that along with ACNJ, I personally fully support the expansion of public preschool, but collectively, we acknowledge that it has had some unintended negative consequences on child care centers and the supply of infant and toddler care within our state. It is my hope that by working together, we can make the necessary corrections.

Therefore, my role in today’s hearing is to highlight seven recommendations broken into two sections: barriers to collaboration and fractures in the current system.

Starting with the barrier to collaboration

Recommendation 1: Align the Department of Education’s square footage requirements for community providers, which is currently 63.3 sq feet per child, with the Department of Children and Families' Office of Licensing guidelines of 35 sq. feet per child like most of the United States. It is important to note, that this misalignment only occurs in NJ and New Hampshire.

More than 62% of NJ providers cannot meet the DOE sq. footage requirement.

Of the nearly
20,000 students in public preK, only 17%, are in provider sites.

According to a recent report, more than 62% of NJ providers cannot meet the DOE sq. footage requirement, which means many providers cannot collaborate with their local school districts, thus risking the sustainability of their businesses as well as the availability of infant and toddler care throughout our state. In Fall 2022, of the nearly 20,000 preschool students in districts funded through PreK Expansion, only 3,300, or 17%, are in private providers or Head Start classrooms.

As it stands now, in order for a community provider who is already educating students 3- and 4-year-olds to participate in the public preschool program, they would need to combine two classrooms into one, thus further limiting child care availability or find additional space and undergo the lengthy, expensive, and daunting child care licensing process before being able to collaborate. As a result, many of these community providers currently working with 3- and 4-year-olds are likely to lose this group of students to public preschool programs and, just as likely, within a couple of years, their businesses. After all, providers cannot operate a center with only infants and toddlers, and parents will eventually stop paying for preschool if they can get it for free. 

While the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) developed national quality standards for publicly funded preschool programs and the Department of Human Services (DHS) developed quality standards for child care centers in New Jersey, neither entity based its standards on classroom square footage. This DCF alignment will immediately allow more providers to participate in the public preschool program while saving small businesses and the limited supply of infant and toddler care currently available within our state.

Recommendation 2: Form a stakeholder group composed of child care and Head Start providers participating and not participating in the public preschool program, representatives from NIEER, NJAEYC, the Department of Children and Families, the Department of Human Services, advocates, and school districts to work with the DOE to modernize the provider contract. This will help remove barriers to collaboration, reduce administrative burdens, and fix funding formulas that disincentivize retaining infant and toddler programs within community provider sites.

Recommendation 3: Establish legislation that treats child care providers collaborating with public schools as a protected vendor class in school contracts, allowing multi-year contracts to secure funding for facility upgrades and new program start-up costs. The current one-year contract makes it nearly impossible for community providers to secure bank loans to cover the long-term financial investments needed for collaboration with the school district. Additionally, it offers no assurance that the collaboration will continue beyond the current school year, creating an imbalanced power dynamic between the school district and the provider.

Next, let's address the fractures in the current system, focusing on workforce, enrollment, funding, and pay parity.

Recommendation #1 Workforce: Provide financial support and time for non-certified public preschool teachers to return to school and become degreed teachers. This includes funding for books, child care, transportation, and remedial courses, with pay increases as milestones are met similar to what we did during the early days of Abbott. In December 2023, we surveyed Abbott providers across our state, and 96 providers responded. Of those, 65% stated that they currently have substitute teachers in the classroom due to the challenges of finding certified teachers. A copy of that survey has been included in your packet today.  Abbott districts are now losing their certified teachers, putting the achievement gap we worked so hard to close over the last 25 years in jeopardy of resurfacing. It is imperative that we do everything possible to support our current workforce while also working to build a pipeline for the future.

Recommendation #2 Enrollment: Launch a statewide public awareness campaign about public preschool and work with districts to reduce barriers to school enrollment. Ensure a fair distribution of student enrollment across in-district and provider sites. Reject proposals to open new preschool classrooms if provider sites are not fully enrolled. One provider surveyed in December stated, “The school district continues to open up in-district preschool classes and poach our parents to register with them instead of collaborating.” Moveover, we have heard similar comments from many other providers indicating to us the significance of this problem. We have also heard about school districts only allowing providers to educate three-year-olds as opposed to students ages three and four years old. This means yearly providers must recruit their full number of contracted slots while the district capitalizes on the community providers’ student population, limiting their recruitment needs and unduly penalizing providers.  This is just one example of an unfair power dynamic that hurts partnerships. 

Recommendation #3 Funding: Ensure that districts fully fund participating child care providers for all of their contracted slots. Currently, school districts are fully funded for their total reported enrollment but penalize community providers who are under-enrolled. When providers meet with the district’s fiscal specialist to create their budget for the upcoming year, they should review the number of contracted slots to determine if the allocation is appropriate. Once agreed upon, the contracted amount should be maintained without any cuts during the year.

Recommendation #4 Pay Parity: Clearly define and require pay parity between district teachers and teachers at provider sites. Again, according to our December survey, 6 out of 10 programs have lost P-3 certified teachers to the district.  Providers have reported salary differences ranging from $15,000 to $25,000. Addressing this issue is essential for ensuring quality and equity across the preschool program.

In conclusion, mixed delivery is vital to the sustainability of New Jersey’s child care system. By addressing these issues, we can ensure that all children have access to high-quality early education. With the support of the Legislature, we can solve these problems, protect community child care centers, and strengthen NJ’s mixed delivery system. Thank you for your time and consideration. I am happy to answer any questions, and my written testimony provides additional details about each outlined recommendation and my contact information.