New Jersey's youngest children aren't getting the quality attention and resources they deserve in child care and preschool, according to a new report from Advocates for Children of New Jersey. The group claims a few moves by the state can help relieve some of the pressure.More than 400,000 children under age 5 spend part of their week in some form of child care, the report states, but providing care at a cost that families can afford is challenging.


New Jersey became one of six states late last year to receive a $44 million federal grant to improve child care quality. To help steer the funds in the right direction, ACNJ conducted a survey of hundreds of child care providers and held three focus groups.

"The components of quality, such as low child/staff ratios, qualified teachers, meaningful professional development, developmentally-appropriate supplies and equipment, adequate facilities and strong family partnerships, are very costly," ACNJ said in the report.

Receiving the biggest share of criticism was the rate at which the state reimburses providers caring for children from low-income families.

"The reimbursement rate has been stagnant for five years," explained Cynthia Rice, ACNJ senior policy analyst. "It is $400 a month lower than the national standard."

The report cited a $34.75 daily state-subsidy payment for an infant, and $28.65 for a preschooler.

Survey respondents said holding on to qualified teachers is a pressing issue due to a lack of adequate funding to pay decent wages. Still, the report pushes for the return to a program that offers scholarships to early learning teachers so they can earn a college degree.

"It's not babysitting, and that's why it's so important to have teachers who understand child development and can provide that rich quality," Rice said. "You want children to be engaged and learning through play. That's the way children learn when they're young. It's not at a table."

A lack of financial security has also been stressed by private care providers who do not get support from the state.

"We have to do a lot of fundraising for any extras," said Susan deBrigard, director of the Tower Hill School in Red Bank. "When you talk about playgrounds and security, we're talking about thousands of dollars."

Rice said the earlier years are when a brain develops the most, "and we have to get the biggest bang for our buck."