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NEW JERSEY SHOWING POSITIVE PROGRESS FOR CHILDREN, STILL HAS ROOM TO GROW COMPARED TO REST OF NATION
New Jersey ranks among the top half of all states for infant and toddler well-being, according to a national report released today by the early childhood development nonprofit ZERO TO THREE and children's research organization Child Trends.
The State of Babies Yearbook: 2019 is a first-of-its-kind resource that provides a national snapshot and comparisons across states of how our youngest children are faring. The Yearbook compiles nearly 60 indicators—specifically for children ages 0 to 3—to measure progress across three policy areas: Good Health, Strong Families and Positive Early Learning Experiences.
New Jersey was among 13 states and the District of Columbia to earn a ranking in the second-highest tier out of four. With fewer mothers receiving late or no prenatal care, a lower rate of uninsured children, and the existence of a state paid family leave program, New Jersey earned top marks in the Health and Strong Families categories.
The Yearbook also showed areas for improvement, such as support for basic needs including stable housing and economic security. And although the state's rate of infant mortality overall was low compared to the national average, black babies in New Jersey are more than three times as likely to die before their first birthday than white babies.
"Each of the 310,305 babies in New Jersey was born with a bundle of unlimited potential and the first three years of their life will shape every year that follows," said Myra Jones-Taylor, chief policy officer of ZERO TO THREE. "But far too many babies face persistent hardships—such as food insecurity, unstable housing, and exposure to violence—that undermine their ability to grow and thrive."
"What happens during the first few months and years of life has an enormous impact on how a child learns and grows throughout his or her lifetime," said Cecilia Zalkind, president and CEO of Advocates for Children of New Jersey (ACNJ), a state partner in ZERO TO THREE's Think BabiesTM campaign. "Positive interactions and early environments during this time of rapid brain development can impact a baby's future social and emotional development and help them thrive as adults."
Unfortunately, not all babies have a strong start. Negative experiences can have a harmful impact on a baby's growing brain and emotional health. Such environments create the potential for adverse childhood experiences, known as ACEs, and poor social-emotional development, a focus area in the Think Babies campaign.
"New Jersey could do better in screening babies for healthy social-emotional development. Children who experience traumatic events at an early age are exposed to stressors that can lead to learning difficulties in school, and physical and mental health issues throughout life," Zalkind said.
"Integration of health into the quality early care and education framework is a critical investment as babies must be healthy to even attend. Babies need pediatric primary care physicians and specialists who provide care promoting prevention and wellness such as routine developmental, and social emotional screenings to identify mental/behavioral health concerns early. Identifying social emotional issues early creates the opportunity to link babies to services needed and provides support for parents/caregivers," said Fran Gallagher, CEO of the NJ Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics. "In New Jersey, pediatricians are reimbursed with the lowest Medicaid payment rates for pediatric care in the nation. It has improved in a few areas; however, access statewide is unavailable. Medicaid parity with Medicare payment would allow physicians to increase their percentage of children with Medicaid insurance seen, to ensure families have access to critical mental/behavioral health screenings and services to promote healthy social-emotional development as part of each baby's overall health."
New Jersey's young children fare better than the national average in:
Women receiving late/no prenatal care: New Jersey saw 5.8 percent of mothers not receiving care, while the national average was 6.2 percent – a 0.4 percent difference.
Paid family leave: New Jersey is one of seven states to offer a paid family leave program, and Governor Murphy recently signed a bill into law that further strengthens it.
The cost of infant care as a percentage of median income for married couples: New Jersey couples pay 10.7 percent of their income for infant care;, the cost of center-based, infant child care remains unaffordable for many families, ranging from $12,000 to $15,000 for an infant or toddler annually.
New Jersey's young children fare worse than the national average in:
Maternal depression screening: Thirty-six states have a Medicaid policy that requires, recommends, or allows maternal depression screening during well-child visits as a reimbursable service. Fourteen states, including New Jersey, do not.
Infants/toddlers who live in crowded housing: New Jersey saw an average of 18.2 percent of children in crowded housing, versus 15.6 percent nationally.
From poverty and racial inequalities to access to affordable housing and child care, the littlest in America face big challenges, according to the Yearbook:
Families with child under 3 in poverty that receive TANF benefits: The national average was 20.6 percent, while New Jersey tops that at 24.1 percent.
Almost half of U.S. babies live in poor or low-income families that struggle to make ends meet.
Almost 1 in 4 babies live in poverty, making children under age 3 the age group most likely to experience poverty.
More than 8 percent of babies and toddlers have already had two or more adverse experiences, such as maltreatment or parental separation or divorce.
Only six states, including New Jersey, and the District of Columbia offer paid family leave, a policy that enables families to support the well-being of infants and other family members.
The State of Babies Yearbook: 2019 uses a transparent ranking process to group states into one of four tiers to provide a quick snapshot of how states fare on the selected indicators and domains. These tiers represent four groupings of states that are approximately equal in size and ordered from highest to lowest performing.
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About Advocates for Children of New Jersey (ACNJ) Advocates for Children of New Jersey is a statewide child research and action organization. ACNJ works with local, state and federal leaders to identify and implement changes that will benefit New Jersey's children.
About ZERO TO THREE ZERO TO THREE works to ensure all infants and toddlers benefit from the family and community connections critical to their well-being and development. Since 1977, the organization has advanced the proven power of nurturing relationships by transforming the science of early childhood into helpful resources, practical tools and responsive policies for millions of parents, professionals and policymakers. For more information, and to learn how to become a ZERO TO THREE member, please visit zerotothree.org, facebook.com/zerotothree, or follow @zerotothree on Twitter.
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