When it comes to programs designed to care for children, New Jersey is among the best in the nation in some areas, however, more work still needs to be done.

Children (Catherine Yeulet, ThinkStock)

One of the state’s leading child advocates said Jersey’s preschool and child insurance programs are very good, but worries remain about the state's rapidly rising child poverty rate and child care costs.

“In our state-funded preschool program we serve more children in a high quality program than pretty much any other state both in terms of the number of children and the quality of the program,” said Cecilia Zalkind, executive director of Advocates for Children of New Jersey (ACNJ).

Nationally, 41 percent of young children are not receiving early education, compared to 29 percent of New Jersey kids, ages three to five, according to ACNJ’s 2015 Kids Count Report.

“We also have one of the best child health insurance programs in the country,” Zalkind said. “FamilyCare reaches a lot of kids. We have significantly reduced the amount of uninsured kids and it is a strong program.”

From 2009 to 2013, the number of uninsured children decreased 14 percent to roughly 112,000 kids. During that same time period, there was a 13 percent increase in children covered through NJ FamilyCare, the state’s free or low-cost health insurance. Seven percent of kids in the U.S. are uninsured, 6 percent of Jersey’s kids don’t have health insurance.

And while New Jersey earns high marks for health insurance and preschool programs, the state continues to grapple with increased child poverty numbers.

“Of course the biggest issue is child poverty and the growing child poverty that we’ve seen over the last five years. That’s discouraging and certainly is linked to the economy in our state, but we’re not going to make as much progress in other areas as we can unless we address that issue of child poverty,” Zalkind said.

The number of kids living in families earning below the federal poverty line increased 31 percent from 2009 to 2013, when 333,000 New Jersey children lived under those circumstance. That translated to 17 percent of all New Jersey children.

Child care programs are also an issue ACNJ will continue to explore and address.

“When we look at the child care system in New Jersey there are concerns about whether it is accessible, affordable and of high quality for families,” Zalkind noted.

In 2013, the last year for which statistics were available, the average annual cost for infants 18 months-old and younger was $11,534. The average yearly cost for a preschooler was $9,546.

Kevin McArdle has covered the State House for New Jersey 101.5 news since 2002. Contact him at kevin.mcardle@townsquaremedia.com. Follow him on twitter at @kevinmcardle1.