Policy Resource

New Jersey Takes on the Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge

Feb 9, 2016

In December, 2013, New Jersey became one of the six newest states to receive a Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge (RTT-ELC) grant.

Through this grant, the state is directing substantial resources to support several early childhood policy priorities. Three of these targets are:

  1. Early Learning Guidelines;
  2. Infant and early childhood mental health; and
  3. Connecting families to appropriate services.

New Jersey adopted new Early Learning Guidelines (ELG) that include infants and toddlers before receiving the RTT-ELC grants, and plans to use RTT- ELC funds to roll them out. The state will also integrate the new ELG into its professional development system and Quality Rating and Improvement System (QRIS). Additionally, New Jersey is creating a library of video clips aligned with the ELG to show what children know and are able to do at different ages. The state has plans to widely disseminate its ELG to parents and professionals to ensure they are used to support young children’s healthy development. Incidentally, New Jersey plans to ensure that its QRIS standards reflect the Center for the Study of Social Policy’s Strengthening Families strength-based framework of protective factors. New Jersey will also use an evidence-based progression of statewide family engagement standards in its QRIS, and train early care and education providers on the protective factors.

New Jersey is taking steps to build capacity in infant and early childhood mental health (IECMH). The state plans to offer new IECMH professional development opportunities to infant-toddler professionals and those serving older children. New Jersey will partner with IECMH experts to provide at least 200 early childhood educators with direct training services and resources in the Infant-Mental Health Endorsement (IMH®E, which the state recently adopted) and/or the Pyramid Model certification by 2017. IECMH trainings will also be offered to early childhood, child welfare, and community partners in the 10 counties affected by Superstorm Sandy. The state also plans to crosswalk its existing IMH®E. Finally, New Jersey plans to work with higher education to improve access to credit-bearing courses for professionals interested in infant-toddler content. The state will respond to a recently conducted higher education inventory, which found that education degree programs at both the baccalaureate and graduate levels need to expand their focus on infants and toddlers.

The services and supports that families with young children need in New Jersey are often administered by multiple agencies and operate in an uncoordinated fashion. The state outlined a proposal to implement processes to make it easier to connect families to the programs that are most appropriate for them in its RTT-ELC application. For example, the state will expand its network of central intake hubs, which currently operate in fifteen counties, across the state. Hubs serve as a single point of entry for families to link to services including health insurance, primary care/pediatric medical homes, WIC, Part C Early Intervention, child behavioral health and mental health, and early education programs.

Learn more about New Jersey and how other states are using RTT-ELC funds to strengthen their early childhood systems in ZERO TO THREEs paper, Meeting the Challenge: How the Newest Early Learning Challenge Grantees Can Meet the Needs of Infants and Toddlers found at http://www.zerotothree.org/public-policy/state-community-policy/elc-grantees-2014.pdf

Learn about New Jersey Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge at http://www.nj.gov/education/ece/rttt/facts.htm

Updated February 2016

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