Atlantic, Cape May and Ocean counties trail the state in providing center-based child-care options for infants and toddlers who may need care, according to a new report.
“It makes the whole ‘looking for child care’ process all that more stressful. Working parents need a variety of options to enable them to feel comfortable leaving their child,” said Diane Dellano, a policy analyst for Advocates for Children of New Jersey, which produced the report.
The report, “No Room for Babies: Center-based Infant-Toddler Child Care in Short Supply,” finds only 13.9 percent of the need for infant and toddler care in Ocean County is met, while Cape May County had 17.2 percent. In Atlantic County, 18.4 percent of the need for child care is met.
Dellano, one of the study’s authors, said the lack of licensed child care is partially due to the cost and burdensome requirements for the facilities, including a one-to-four rule for infants to caregivers. She said while the state provides a subsidy to centers for parents who cannot afford child care, it has not been raised in nearly a decade.
“So child-care centers are expected to provide the same level of care for the same prices that were available in 2008,” Dellano said.
She said for an infant, the child-care subsidy per child is about $160 per week, or $4 per hour per child.
“It’s just become so expensive for parents that they struggle to be able to afford it. And centers, while they try to accommodate families with subsidies, they also can’t lose money, and they want to provide high-quality care,” Dellano said.
Shirley Hayes, of Egg Harbor Township, owns and operates three daycare facilities in Atlantic County. Her business, Giggles and Scribbles, has locations in Northfield and Egg Harbor and Galloway townships.
Hayes, who has a background in social work, said she got into child care in 2011 after seeing a need in the community.
“I didn’t intend to start with one and end up with a few. I really just started with a small center and saw we had a waiting list all the time,” Hayes said.
While she thinks there is adequate child care in this area, she believes there is a lack of quality care.
Hayes said as a courtesy to parents, she charges a flat rate for care, instead of an inflated price for infant care. She said she works with parents often to help cover the costs.
Hayes said day-care centers face additional challenges because free preschool programs for toddlers in some areas, such as Atlantic City, drive away business.
“I was considering a fourth location in Atlantic City until they broke ground and brought in the Gateway school there. So that’s free pre-K, so obviously we’ll lose the business,” she said.
According to the study, the lack of care options disproportionally affects more rural or urban communities. In Pleasantville, only 9 percent of the need was met by the three licensed centers.
In Fairfield Township, there were no facilities to meet the need.
In addition, care for parents who do shift work — typical in the hospitality industry — require facilities to accommodate odd hours, making access to child care even more strained, Dellano said.
She said ACNJ would like to see subsidies raised, a child-care tax credit implemented and incentives for child-care centers to maintain quality programs. Dellano said it’s also important for the business community to get involved.
“Having the accessibility of the child care in your own community, or where your workplace is, really helps to make a more productive workforce,” she said. “We’re hoping that employers and corporations and the business community take a look at this report as well and realize the impact the lack of child care can have on our economy.”