United In Care advocates for the state's investment in family care providers
The following testimony was submitted to the New Jersey General Assembly's Women and Children Committee on May 12, 2021 by United In Care, a collaborative led by United Way of Northern New Jersey:
Thank you for this opportunity to advocate on behalf of the child care
professionals whose lives have been turned upside down due to COVID-19, as well as those ALICE families (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed) who have struggled with accessing quality child care.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic struck a year ago, both registered child care centers and at-home family child care providers (or FCCs) have been hit tremendously hard. Up to 50 percent of the 4,000 licensed child care centers in the state have or are expected to close due to the pandemic. Meanwhile, more than 300 FCCs in New Jersey have shut their doors for good, putting an already broken child care industry into further crisis. This committee knows well that without affordable, quality, reliable child care, parents can’t return to work, businesses cannot return to normal operations, and our economy will continue to be stalled. Child care is not just in the business of meeting the needs of parents, child care drives our economy. We would like to shed some light on the critical role at-home family care providers play for ALICE families and how they’ve been overlooked in pandemic response efforts to date. In addition to serving many ALICE families in their programs, many FCC providers are themselves ALICE. Traditionally, these local FCC businesses, many owned by Black and Latinx women, have not had access to the same financial incentives that child care centers normally receive. Meanwhile, most ALICE workers rely on these FCCs to care for their children because they are the most affordable and flexible. Additionally, FCCs offer care that meets the social emotional needs of our youngest children in a setting that intrinsically addresses some of the key principles of early childhood mental health. This is something that we work hard to promote through our center-based providers, such as continuity of care and primary caregiving. FCCs play a crucial role in our early childhood system, but they are traditionally not recognized as such and are not provided with the same level of funding and support that centers receive. Here are three ways we can recognize the impact of and support the sustainability of FCCs:
Include FCCs in tiered child care subsidy reimbursements tied to our quality rating and improvement system. This funding and support will collectively strengthen both the quality of their programs and business practices improving overall sustainability.
We ask for consideration that FCC homes not be viewed and measured based on the assumption that they are small child care centers. Just as children are not little adults, FCCs are their own entities with their own guiding principles, values, benefits, and need. This includes understanding their specialized curriculum needs, business practices, and quality indicators.
Create incentives for FCCs to register with the state and join in a collective effort to grow a system that uplifts FCC care. By doing so, we begin to bring FCCs to the table as crucial decision makers in our state’s early childhood system.
To address some of the systemic issues mentioned above, United Way of Northern New Jersey is leading a three-year pilot project called United In Care with funding from the New Jersey Pandemic Relief Fund. The pilot connects highly rated centers with local FCCs to expand capacity, leverage expertise, share resources and sustain critical infrastructure. Our plan includes offering opportunities to further their professional development and establish financial stability, thus creating a system that is sustainable. But we need the state to also do its part, by actively making FCCs part of its solution to the lack of affordable, quality child care. The FCCs are the backbone of the child care system and by lifting them up, we will raise the level of child care as well. While our shared services model will support the business growth of these family care providers, many of whom are in the ALICE demographic, we cannot do it alone and appreciate your consideration of our recommendations above to support the FCC providers across the state. Thank you.