United Way Reimagines Child Care With New Jersey Pandemic Relief Fund

$3.5 million NJPRF grant gets three-year pilot project off the ground

The New Jersey Pandemic Relief Fund is partnering with United Way of Northern New Jersey to develop and fund a multimillion-dollar initiative seeking to reinvent the way child care is delivered in the state.


The United In Care initiative seeks to address the longstanding shortage of high-quality, affordable child care options that has been exacerbated by the coronavirus, forcing working parents to scramble for alternatives.


NJPRF is contributing $3.5 million to the $8.4 million, three-year pilot program that will connect - for the first time in multiple counties simultaneously - independent, home-based, family care providers and licensed child care centers. The goal is to transform the quality and affordability of child care in the state for ALICE (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed) parents.


“Safe, affordable, quality child care is essential for working parents and critical to the economy,” said First Lady Tammy Murphy, the founding chair of the Fund. “This program goes beyond just providing direct support to child care operators, it addresses the massive loss of child care spots and overarching need for an innovative approach. That’s why we are so eager to fund this vital project.”


Additional funding will come from two major national foundations – the Overdeck Family Foundation and the Tepper Foundation, which are each contributing $1.2 million. NJPRF is hoping to identify other donors to contribute to the project, which could serve as a national model for building sustainability within the child care industry.


“We thank NJPRF for their partnership and leadership in recognizing that affordable, quality child care is central to achieving economic recovery for the state and struggling ALICE essential workers,” said United Way of Northern New Jersey CEO Kiran Handa Gaudioso. “We are proud to deploy our ALICE research and coalition-building skills to tackle inequities underscored by the pandemic that have kept quality care out of reach for too many hardworking parents.”

An industry in crisis

Before the pandemic, child care in New Jersey was severely strained and underfunded, with few infant and toddler options. In New Jersey, 46% of all residents live in a child care desert, according to a 2019 report by the Center for American Progress. Child care supply is especially low among certain populations: 54 percent of rural families, 54 percent of low-income families and 52 percent of Latino families live in areas without enough licensed child care providers.


Since COVID-19 social distancing requirements were put in place, child care centers have been restricted to half occupancy, drastically reducing their revenues and their capacity to meet increased needs.


Nearly half of the licensed child care centers in the nation are at risk of closing because of the pandemic, further restricting supply. At the same time, New Jersey does not have enough registered home-based family child care providers to pick up the slack.


“This entire industry could collapse at a time when the need for child care among working families is most acute,” NJPRF CEO Josh Weinreich said. “At its core, it’s an economic stabilization project, that will get people back to work and reinvigorate an industry that was broken before the pandemic.”


Murphy noted that NJPRF is not only contributing financially to the project, but also brought key leaders and stakeholders in child care together to rethink the way child care is delivered in the state.


Philanthropy driving innovation

“The pandemic brought the inequitable issues surrounding child care to the forefront and challenged us to devise a thoughtful, creative solution that addresses a longstanding need,” Murphy said. “I am particularly proud of the central role the voices and leadership of child care providers, many of them women and minorities, played in the development of this innovative pilot.”


Alfa Demmellash, the CEO and co-founder of Rising Tide Capital and a member of the NJPRF board, is one such leader who helped make the pilot possible.


“This project is an example of the catalytic role of philanthropy in addressing urgent and complex problems,” Demmellash said.


The United In Care initiative seeks to establish three hub and spoke models in North, Central and South Jersey, which will partner a center-based provider (hub) with between five and 10 registered, home-based family child care providers (spokes).


The hub and spoke model will allow home-based providers to access training in a state-approved quality curriculum, PPE, technology and other support that might include obtaining fresh, nutritious food for children in their care. Home-based providers will also be able to take advantage of shared back-office services that centers can provide. Another important feature is the ability of centers to provide substitute staffing for home-based providers.


The ultimate goal of the pilot project is to generate a proof of concept model that can be scaled across the state, and perhaps, across the nation.


A report by the Annie E. Casey Foundation/Kids Count found that two-thirds of New Jersey children under six years old live in families where all available caregivers are working, making access to quality, affordable child care essential.


A significant portion of the funding covers scholarships to ALICE parents to pay for tuition at a child care center.


Access to timely and accurate data and predictive analytics to support problem solving for providers and families will be essential to the success of the pilot. BCT Partners, a Newark-based minority owned firm, will be leading the development of the data platform to support the United In Care pilot.


“As a company dedicated to equity and systems change, BCT is proud to serve as a thought leader and implementation partner for United In Care,” said Lawrence Hibbert, president of BCT Partners. “We are excited to collaborate in the design and construction of a data platform that leverages machine learning and advanced data analytics to assess and predict child care needs, coordinate service delivery, and evaluate the effectiveness and impact of the model for future scaling.”


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Meet ALICE

ALICE   is an acronym for Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed, and represents the growing number of families who are unable to afford the basics of housing, food, child care, health care, technology, and transportation. These workers often struggle to keep their own households from financial ruin, while keeping our local economies running.

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