ACNJ recently conducted a statewide survey, revealing that although child care centers reported having the space to serve more babies, they simply cannot find enough staff to work in the infant-toddler room.
Key findings include:
On average, child care programs reported serving ten fewer infants and toddlers than they would like to serve.
Among the survey respondents that reported serving fewer infants and toddlers than they would like to serve, nearly 75% identified lack of staff as the primary reason.
The infant‐toddler child care staffing shortage in New Jersey is widespread, with the majority of centers in 20 of the 21 counties that responded to the survey identifying problems finding enough staff willing to work in the infant-toddler room as the primary reason they are unable to enroll more babies.
“As we approach Labor Day, we are reminded of the critical role child care teachers serve in nurturing our youngest children, while giving working parents peace of mind knowing their child is safe and cared for,” says Diane Dellanno, ACNJ policy analyst and co-author of the report. “However, New Jersey’s child care labor force remains woefully underpaid and unstable. Without a robust supply of qualified and well-compensated infant‐toddler educators, the staffing crisis will continue.”
Infant‐toddler caregivers are generally the lowest paid among caregivers and have higher staff turnover rates than those caring for older children.
“Child care is often prohibitively expensive for many working families, but even as parents struggle to afford care, it can still be very hard to find. That’s because taking on child care for infants and toddlers is also cost-prohibitive for many centers,” explains Cynthia Rice, ACNJ senior policy analyst and co-author of the report. “Babies require extra attention, with a maximum infant-to-teacher ratio of one teacher to every four babies. With limited public funding and high operational costs, providers are unable to adequately compensate teachers for the true cost of care.”
As of May 2021, the annual mean wage of a New Jersey child care teacher was $31,450, or $15.12 per hour. On average, infant‐toddler teachers are paid $6.21 per hour less than those in preschool‐age classrooms. This wage gap makes it even more challenging to find educators to work in the infant‐toddler rooms.
“The pandemic highlighted the essential role child care providers served in supporting working families, especially those on the frontlines,” says Dellanno. “Critical public investments helped keep many child care centers from closing, but as we continue our economic recovery, it’s important that we move beyond addressing the COVID‐related emergencies in child care and truly develop solutions with sustained wage increases and an early childhood system that works for us all.”
Most recently, as part of the FY23 budget, Governor Murphy signed into law Thriving by Three, a $28 million legislative initiative to develop more quality child care for and toddlers, targeted to low‐income communities and/or child care deserts.
President Biden’s Build Back Better bill had proposed significant investments in both child care and preschool in order to address quality, access and affordability. However, the final iteration of the bill, now titled the Inflation Reduction Act, recently signed into law, left out child care funding completely, leaving hopes for a stronger system of early care and education in jeopardy.
“Our child care workforce cannot be forgotten,” states Dellanno. “Compensating providers fairly and supporting workforce development would help programs recruit and retain qualified caregivers who can afford to remain as early childhood educators.”
Advocates for Children of New Jersey is a statewide child research and action organization and the New Jersey Kids Count grantee. The Newark Kids Count data reports are possible due to the generous support of the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the Prudential Foundation and the Victoria Foundation.
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