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The Babies in New Jersey Who Start Out with ‘Odds Stacked Against Them’

July 31, 2018
Colleen O'Dea
NJ Spotlight

The first few years of a child’s life are critically important to growth and development, and New Jersey’s youngest residents are poorer and face greater challenges than older children, particularly if they are members of a minority race, a new report shows.

The first ever Babies Count report from Advocates for Children of New Jersey, which produces annual Kids Count reports, indicates that 57 percent of children under age 3 in the state are either Hispanic, black, Asian or multiracial and some of these groups are more vulnerable than older children to health and safety problems. The goals of the report, released today, are to highlight data on New Jersey’s 310,000 infants and toddlers, who are often lost among figures describing general child statistics, and inform public officials so they can address these issues.

“Our babies are just starting out in life and already have the odds stacked against them,” said Cecilia Zalkind, ACNJ’s president and CEO. “By targeting this age group, policymakers and state leaders have an opportunity to change the trajectory and lead babies on the pathway to a healthy and productive future.”

With so many outcomes often tied to income, it is troubling that infants and toddlers are more likely to live in relative poverty than the state as a whole. Some 35 percent of the youngest children live in families with incomes below 200 percent of the federal poverty level, or roughly $49,000, while just a quarter of all New Jerseyans have low incomes.

“From the time in their mother’s womb through their early years and beyond, we know that living in poverty impacts every aspect of a child’s life,” Zalkind said. “This is an incredible time of growth for babies, but the data shows that the critical supports needed to help families with young children are difficult to access or in short supply.”

A major problem that low-income families face is finding affordable child care for their infants and toddlers. New Jersey’s child care subsidies cover a weekly rate of $167 per infant and $165 per toddler for qualifying low-income working families. But at that low rate, only 12 percent of licensed child care centers had prices that met the subsidy rate for infant care and 19 percent for center-based toddler care.

“The subsidy reimbursement rate for licensed child care providers is especially low for babies 17 months and younger because of the higher costs for providing care,” according to the report.

t can be tough for even families with higher incomes to find good care for young children. Fewer than half of the state’s 4,025 child care centers are licensed to serve infants and toddlers. Almost 70 percent of children under age 3 — some 190,000 — had working mothers, leading to a shortage of center-based care for this age group, according to the report.