Supporting our village — It’s time to reimagine child care

Without child care as a public good in the U.S., families grapple with the high cost of care and providers operate on razor-thin margins
Credit: (Advocates for Children of New Jersey)
Jackie Boyett, mom of two, pictured with her family in Scotch Plains, NJ

It takes a village to raise a child, but what happens when that village isn’t close by? Ask any new parent and they will tell you how difficult it is to find child care that’s affordable, reliable and high-quality. It’s even more challenging for working parents like me, who have limited resources and must choose between the care I can afford and the quality that my child deserves. The first few years of a child’s life are an incredible time of growth and discovery, laying the foundation for the rest of his life.

After my first son was born, I was relieved to learn that New Jersey provides child care assistance through tuition subsidies to defray the cost of center- or home-based care. On paper, any working family who meets the income eligibility can benefit. In practice, however, parents face a daunting application process, and many child care centers do not accept subsidies because of the low reimbursement rate. It is no surprise that only one in six children eligible for child care tuition assistance actually receives it.

After countless searches and phone calls, I finally found a child care center for my son. The center was neither convenient (30 minutes away from home), nor did it meet my standards for quality care. However, it was the only place I could afford that would accept tuition assistance. I was left with limited options and I needed child care to return to work.

Then last year, without warning, at a time when I needed support the most, I was terminated from the program because I did not notify the state about my change in status. My second child was born prematurely, and as one might imagine, I was focused on my baby’s health and well-being. This counterproductive system for enrolling and renewing benefits and the lack of available options demonstrate the challenges of accessing affordable child care.

If I could reimagine child care in the Garden State, every infant or toddler would have access to quality early learning settings, regardless of income or ZIP code. I know my family is not alone in struggling to juggle child care and work right now. But it feels like that struggle has been long ignored. As we recover from this pandemic, New Jersey must also rebuild its child care system, taking into account what families need, while also making programs easier to navigate. We cannot go back to what it was. In order to have access to the child care we all need — now and in the future — New Jersey must make funding child care an ongoing budget priority.

Fortunately, there’s good news. Meaningful supports for families are on the horizon. Included in President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan is roughly $936 million in federal funding designated to support child care in New Jersey. Soon, state leaders and policymakers will determine how to best spend this money. As parents of young children, we can be a part of this important process. Our collective voice and our stories matter. Join me on Wednesday, June 9 for the 4th annual Strolling Thunder NJ, a virtual event by Advocates for Children of New Jersey (ACNJ), that brings together parents from across New Jersey to develop solutions to share with state leaders on how to build a better, stronger child care system that benefits us all. Your input matters!