In 2015, New Jersey released a set of priorities and recommendations to support infants, toddlers, and their families.
With leadership from Advocates for Children of New Jersey (ACNJ) and support from the New Jersey BUILD Initiative and ZERO TO THREE, an Infant-Toddler Policy Action Team worked for two years to convene and survey stakeholders, reach agreement on priorities, and define recommendations. The work was driven by several goals, including securing greater state investments for infants and toddlers, improving policies and programs, and creating an aligned and coordinated system of services for very young children. The 3 top priority areas are described below.
Priority 1: Improve the quality of infant-toddler child care.
Over the years, New Jersey has undertaken multiple efforts to improve the quality of infant-toddler child care. For example, in 2008, an Infant/Toddler Credential was developed to enhance the knowledge, skills, and practice of providers in center and family child care programs. In 2009, the New Jersey First Steps Infant/Toddler Specialist Initiative was launched to provide expert support to providers caring for infants and toddlers. Birth to Three Early Learning Standards were developed and adopted in 2013. The Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning (CSEFEL) Pyramid Model was adopted, and a New Jersey Infant Mental Health Endorsement system was created.
To build on this momentum, the Infant-Toddler Policy Action Team and its stakeholders recommended additional steps:
- Develop a comprehensive, integrated statewide system of professional development for infant-toddler caregivers that is affordable and accessible;
- Increase licensing/registration requirements for those working with infants and toddlers;
- Address compensation and benefit issues among infant-toddler caregivers;
- Support the adoption and use of the New Jersey Birth to Three Early Learning Standards;
- Provide access to consulting professionals in the area of early childhood mental health to help with early identification of and intervention for social/emotional issues; and
- Determine the impact of infant-toddler workforce improvement initiatives.
Priority 2: Increase the availability and accessibility of evidence-based/evidence-informed, culturally relevant parenting supports.
From the New Jersey Home Visiting Initiatives that serve over 5,000 families from pregnancy to age three using evidence-based models, to Early Head Start programs, a network of Family Success Centers, and widespread implementation of the Strengthening Families Protective Factors Framework, efforts are underway at the community and state levels to support families with very young children. Further, New Jersey has a statewide central intake system that provides a single point of entry to ensure families are matched with the services they need.
Federal funding from Early Childhood Comprehensive Systems, Project LAUNCH, and Race to the Top -Early Learning Challenge provides additional impetus for the state to include parents as partners in the building of systems.
To take this work to new heights, the stakeholders recommended additional steps:
- Ensure a wide range of culturally appropriate, evidence-based parent support and education services are available and easily accessible throughout the state for all types of families beginning prenatally;
- Build a well-trained and highly qualified infant-toddler workforce across disciplines;
- Engage families in identifying parent support and education needs;
- Expand and develop initiatives to encourage breastfeeding;
- Complete the process to develop a Parent Guide for the New Jersey Birth to Three Learning Standards; and
- Improve health insurance coverage for parent education and mental health services.
Priority 3: Create a financing mechanism to sustain and expand services for infants, toddlers, and their families.
Resources are needed to address the recommendations offered by the Infant-Toddler Policy Action team. A 2013 report by Charles Bruner found that in New Jersey, for every public dollar invested in a school-age child, only 4 cents is invested in an infant or toddler, and 26 cents in a preschooler. Stakeholders recommended additional steps to develop innovative public-private funding strategies and to best maximize the public resources available:
- Identify and engage foundation and business champions and develop public-private partnerships to increase funding for infant-toddler services;
- Conduct additional research on financing options utilized by other states to determine what would work best in New Jersey; and
- Explore how federal funding opportunities can help strengthen infant-toddler services.
A summary report of the Infant-Toddler Policy Action Team can be accessed here.