NEW JERSEY – As part of the week-long Strolling Thunder New Jersey event hosted by Advocates for Children of New Jersey (ACNJ) from May 23rd to 27th, New Jersey parents met with state representatives to tell them what babies need in order to be successful in the Garden State throughout the month of May. This annual advocacy event is geared towards raising awareness regarding the needs of children ages prenatal to three years old, as well as their caregivers so that the state’s children can thrive and become productive adults.
“The Murphy Administration has shown an outstanding commitment to children, but we still have work to do to make New Jersey the safest place to give birth and raise a family,” says Cecilia Zalkind, president and CEO of ACNJ. “Today, we enter our fifth annual Strolling Thunder event geared at telling legislators we want them to think babies and act, making a commitment to our littlest residents by funding programs vital to infants and toddlers.”
This week, parents and caregivers across the state will be rallying for babies through social media and sending letters to their representatives supporting kids. Already, parents like Rose-Anne from Jersey City have met with their legislators to talk about what parents and children need, such as affordable, quality child care – an issue that has garnered national attention in recent months. “Our most recent and most challenging part of raising children has been securing high-quality child care and amid concerns over pandemic policies, curriculum, and academic excellence geared towards preparing children for the future of work and the real world,” she explains. “We have tried a variety of child care solutions including family daycare, private daycare centers, a live-in nanny…. We need help, solutions, and support.”
Parents are also speaking up on the federal level. Last week, Destiney Baxter of Woodbridge brought her son, Joseph, to meet with the offices of Congressman Pallone and Senator Menendez to share her experience as an infant/toddler child care teacher and a mother of a toddler in child care as part of Strolling Thunder hosted by national nonprofit ZERO TO THREE. She also discussed the need for strengthened paid family leave policies so parents can bond with their child after birth, the need for greater compensation for child care teachers, and also for more affordable child care for families. “As an infant and toddler teacher, I was able to secure a spot for my son to attend a quality child care center. I receive a 50% discount since my son attends where I work. But even with all of this, affording child care is still a struggle and paying for it takes up a large portion of my salary. We need to ensure sustained, robust funding for child care to help support a stronger, more equitable child care system for working families like mine.”
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Over the past month, 18 parents met with their legislators virtually to discuss how to best help babies and their families. Though each parent had unique stories and experiences, they shared common goals. Each expressed that they wanted to see the Murphy Administration:
- Put a cap on out-of-pocket childbirth expenses,
- Broaden insurance coverage for pre- and post-natal care from doctors, midwives and doulas,
- Extend paid parental leave in both time and compensation,
- Expand and extend child care hours to ensure programs accommodate working parents,
- Provide greater access to maternal mental health services, such as home visitation,
- Expand infant and toddler mental health services, including early intervention,
- And ensure child care is a public good — as it is the foundation for lifelong learning.
“We are proud of the steps that New Jersey has already taken in order to help families, but we also acknowledge the steps that we need to take to grow,” explains Zalkind. “Currently, the child care sector is threatening to collapse if support is not offered for both the parents and the providers. We are proud that New Jersey is the second state in the nation to offer universal home visiting to all parents, but we need to ensure that the program is both accessible and sustainable. Black babies are two times more likely to die before their first birthday compared to the state average – a staggering number. The data is clear – in order to give children the opportunity to thrive, we need to start with babies.”
Those who wish to participate in Strolling Thunder New Jersey can visit https://acnj.org/strolling-thunder-new-jersey-2022/ for more information.
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About Advocates for Children of New Jersey (ACNJ): Advocates for Children of New Jersey’s work as an independent non-profit organization has resulted in better laws and policies, more effective funding and stronger services for children and families, giving more children a chance to grow up safe, healthy and educated. We work closely with state and federal lawmakers and policymakers to bolster their understanding and response to the needs of children and families. To learn more, visit acnj.org