Child care in New Jersey costs on average almost $11,000 per year, but parents have few options to find out whether child care centers meet state regulations, according to a report released today.
The Advocates for Children of New Jersey, or ACNJ, report supports more oversight, and a state income tax credit for child care to help families with the cost.
The “Meeting New Jersey’s Child Care Challenge” report says that while New Jersey ranks third in the nation in having stringent standards for child care centers, it ranks 46th overall in enforcing them, according to Child Care Aware of America.
The report says 38 inspectors are responsible for inspecting the state’s 4,000 licensed centers each year, averaging about 100 each, or double the number recommended by Child Care Aware.
ACNJ Executive Director Cecilia Zalkind said state agencies have improved quality and oversight in the last couple of years, but progress is slow and limited.
“The state is moving in the right direction on quality,” she said. “But their plan is not going to grow without more money.”
ACNJ recommends that the state post inspection reports online, hire more inspectors, and require criminal background checks for family home-care providers. Currently only centers are required to do criminal background checks on employees, though a bill has been proposed to extend that provision to registered home-based sites.
DCF along with other state agencies has begun a program called Grow NJ Kids that is designed to improve the quality of early care education in the state.
The state has applied for a Race to the Top federal grant to help implement the plan, which includes a Quality Rating Improvement System , or QRIS, for child care centers in four counties this year. But no information is available on whether that program has begun.
A spokesman for the N.J. Department of Children and Families said they could not comment because they had not yet seen the final report.
Zalkind said New Jersey is one of 14 states that do not have a state income tax credit for child care. A federal IRS tax credit allows for a deduction of as much as 35 percent of child care costs.
“New Jersey is not the most expensive state, but costs are high for middle- and low-income families,” Zalkind said, adding they will be trying to get support among state legislators for a state tax credit. “It’s time to visit this issue.”
She said she hopes the report helps generate public support for their proposals.
The report notes a New Jersey family making the median income of $85,000 is paying about 13 percent of their income on child care for one infant at a licensed center. The percentage goes to 24 percent if they have an infant and a preschooler.
Home-based care costs less, about $8,520 for an infant or about 10 percent of income.
The U.S. Department of Human Services recommends that no more than 10 percent of income be spent on child care.
Costs in the southern part of the state are lower than the state average, according to report data, but so are incomes. Families in Atlantic and Cumberland counties for example, are on average paying 17 percent of their income for center-based infant care and 15 percent for preschool.
William Beyers, co-owner with his wife, Janice, of four Barbarito and Beyers child care centers in South Jersey, said they have worked hard to keep costs down because they know families are struggling.
“Our staff works with us. We all understand the economy today,” he said.
The couple has been in business for 35 years, and Beyers said he has noticed an improvement in state oversight over the last several years.
The state does provide subsidies for families making below $46,100, or twice the poverty level, and about 25,500 children under age 5 received a subsidy in 2012.
Other concerns in the report are the lack of oversight of home-based child care, especially since many are likely not registered. Only those that accept the state subsidy are required to register.
The shortage of care for children under the age of 1 and night-time care are also concerns. Only half of licensed centers offer infant and toddler care, and only 4 percent of centers are open at night, according to the report.
Center-based infant care is more expensive than preschool care because the state requires more staffing.
Zalkind said most infants and toddlers are likely cared for in a home setting, so oversight of those sites is increasingly important. About 2,300 home-based sites are registered with the state, and another 1,600 are approved friend/relative homes.
“It’s a crucial time in a child’s development,” she said. “But the state focus is on center-based care.”
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