New Jersey has been chosen as one of six states to take part in the Think Babies campaign designed to bring attention to the many issues that affect what babies and their families need to thrive.

Advocates of Children of New Jersey has been selected as New Jersey's advocacy organization to team up with national early childhood advocacy group Zero To Three.

ACNJ President Cecelia Zalkind said birth to age 3 is the key age group for brain development and for future school success. So the primary aim of the campaign is to remind people how important the early years are.

For the past year, ACNJ has been looking at child care, especially for babies. Zalkind says two reports were done about the cost of child care quality and the capacity of childcare for families looking for care. She says it's shockingly unavailable for low-income families who rely on state child care subsidies.

Less than 25 percent of babies with families in the workforce have access to licensed center-based care, says Zalkind. So New Jersey needs to do a better job at providing quality affordable child care.

Some areas of focus of the campaign include increasing access to infant and early childhood mental health services and increasing access to nutrition and obesity-prevention initiatives for infants and toddlers.

Children need access to health care and child care is critical because that's the first early education experience for young children, she says.

New Jersey's family leave law could be improved so that policies provide full or partial replacement of wages after birth or adoption. She also thinks it should enable more parents to stay at home during those first critical months with their babies.

"We can do more as a state in looking at lead poisoning of young children. That's one issue that we'll prioritize but our primary priority right now is to improve access to quality child care, especially for babies, says Zalkind.

Among the initial activities in the Think Babies campaign will be New Jersey's Strolling Thunder event on May 21, which will bring families and early childhood advocates from across the state to Trenton to lobby policymakers. The event is modeled after Zero to Three's national Strolling Thunder event, held earlier in May in Washington, D.C.

Zalkind says she was thrilled when Gov. Phil Murphy mentioned in his budget address on Tuesday that he wants to increase preschool funding. She says kids have been waiting for preschool since 2008 when a funding formula was passed. So to take this incredible $83 million first step is positive.

She was also happy to her that Murphy is taking an initiative to support low-income working families because child care fits into that category as well.

The five other states selected are Colorado, North Carolina, Georgia, Rhode Island and Washington.

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