‘Strolling Thunder’ campaign advocates for better child care nationwide

Based on the theory that bringing cute kids to a political rally is a good way to get attention, a coalition of state child advocacy groups strolled to the capital to call on lawmakers to improve child services.

“I think New Jersey is ahead of the country in some areas. We have the best preschool program in country, but it starts at age three. We have a family leave program, but not a lot of families can access it. So what we feel is we’re on a great pathway, but we can make it much better,” said Cecilia Zalkind, president and CEO of Advocates for Children of New Jersey.

“Strolling Thunder” was arranged by the group Zero To Three and is part of a nationwide campaign to highlight issues like child care, paid family leave and services for expectant mothers. About 150 of New Jersey’s youngest came out with their moms, and a few dads, during a rather festive rally. Danelle Robinson will soon be a mother of three.

“I’m really advocating for child care because I’m learning now how much child care really is. And with three children in child care, that’s basically everything that I make,” said Robinson.

Advocates for Children of New Jersey says the state is woefully underprepared to take care of the 200,00 New Jersey infants. The group says there are only licensed child care centers to handle about 56,000 of the newborns, leaving parents to turn to other expensive day care options.

A survey by care.com, a company that helps families find child and senior care, says parents spend an average of 20 percent of their income on child care.

“In New Jersey we need increased funding for early prenatal care, we need support for new parents with home visiting programs and we need affordable quality child care,” said Assemblywoman Yvonne Lopez.

“Child care is very expensive. I’m a mom. I have a five and an eight-year-old and my kids both went to child care, and what I paid for child care for a year is what it cost me to go to college for a year,” said Jennifer Santana, president of the Coalition of Infant/Toddler Educators.

Child advocates say prenatal care has to be a renewed priority in the state of New Jersey. The groups say that the infant mortality rate among African-American children is three times higher than it is for whites. And they say a lot of that has to do with the lack of easy access for prenatal care.

“A great concern to us is all the news now about the infant mortality rate, especially for black infants. New Jersey is at the bottom of the country,” said Zalkind.

“One of the concerns we have here in Trenton is the erosion of maternal/child health services,” said June Gray, director of family support intervention for Children’s Futures. “There is no hospital that’s delivering babies in Trenton. There are no OBGYNs in Trenton.”

“Strolling Thunder” debuted two weeks ago in Washington. After New Jersey, organizers will stroll through half a dozen more states this summer.