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Study: Child Care’s Future Hinges on Funding; Parents Face Tough Choices

Study: Child Care's Future Hinges on Funding; Parents Face Tough Choices

By Christopher Knoll

COURT HOUSE – Annually, nearly 400,000 children from newly-forming families with both parents working inevitably encounter the problem of finding quality child care. 
When one considers that the first five years of a child’s development is the key to laying a solid foundation of achieving a healthy mental and emotional intelligence in the future, the stress of securing the right facility becomes evident.
For several years, the Advocates for Children of New Jersey (ACNJ) has produced cost-estimation studies to aid parents in making an informed choice when it comes to entrusting their children’s mental and physical well-being to a child care center.
On April 25, ACNJ released its 2017 study entitled “Quality Costs How Much? Estimating the Cost of Quality Child Care in New Jersey” which was partly funded and supported by healthcare advocacy group the Nicholson Foundation and guided by child care expert Anne Mitchell.
The study claims that the crucial years of child development for New Jersey’s children may not be receiving the quality of care needed in most of the state’s nearly 40,000 child care facilities, based on a rating sample obtained from some of these locations.
Cost of Care
In 2013, New Jersey instituted the ‘Grow NJ Kids’ quality rating and improvement system in response to decades of reported child care inadequacies and the results of this new system were reported in ACNJ’s study.
“The findings (of the ACNJ study) indicate that at current funding levels, most publicly-funded care centers cannot meet these higher state standards that define quality,” reports the ACNJ.
The situation is more dire in counties with below average median incomes, like Cape May County. In such counties, “programs that provide care for large percentages of children whose families receive a child care subsidy” are only financially viable by limiting their level of quality to the bare minimum prescribed by state law.
The weighted impact of subsidy-dependent families is high because it effectively reduces two aspects of the industry’s “Iron Triangle” of financial stability; full tuition and adequate annual expenses.
The average child care tuition is $12,098 a year. For this reason, the ACNJ has called for an increase in the subsidized weekly rate from a current $132.40 for preschoolers and $160.60 for infants to a flat $263, which would allow for a nearly 67 to 99 percent subsidizing of tuition depending on location and quality level of a facility.
What Drives Cost?
The primary driver in costs for facilities relates to labor expense, with salaries and benefits being the main contributors.
This factor also inhibits improving the quality of a child care center.
The ACNJ writes that “both compensation and the amount of staff time necessary to maintain quality will increase with each level” of care.
Private and child care centers devoted solely to preschoolers and/or having an enrollment level requiring at least 12 classrooms were found to be more financially viable and immune to cost stressors.
Path to Solvency, Quality
The future of quality care, according to the ACNJ, relies on larger subsidies, providing enrollment incentives like scholarships, getting legislators to pass a state child care tax credit, and demanding continued professional development for facility managers and staff.
All of this, however, demands more money from a social demographic already squeezed by an anemic economy and heavy taxes.
To contact Christopher Knoll, email cknoll@cmcherald.com.

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