This week 110 participants joined the discussion focused on access to affordable quality childcare. As child daycare and early childhood programs reopen, we must address the complex issues surrounding capacity, safety, staffing, economic viability, and program effectiveness under new, ever changing guidelines.

Debra Lancaster, Executive Director, Rutgers Center for Women and Work co-moderated the following speakers:

Meghan Tavormina. President of the New Jersey Association for the Education of Young Children and the Executive Director of the Learning Path in Chatham. Ms. Tavormina highlighted the importance of childcare as our NJ families head back to work and our childcare centers reopen. Meghan spoke about the intense demand for childcare, and the difficulties in providing it.  Attendance vs. enrollment pay, maintaining teaching staff due to poor pay and lack of benefits, understanding and meeting reopening guidelines and practicing social distancing while caring for infants and toddlers are just some of the struggle’s providers face.

Cynthia Rice, an attorney and Senior Policy Analyst with the Advocates for Children of New Jersey works with local, state, and federal leaders to identify and implement changes that will benefit New Jersey’s children. Ms. Rice spoke of the uncertainty concerning the access and availability of childcare.  Cynthia pointed out that childcare programs were already run on a “shoestring budget,” now, because of closures due to COVID-19, an estimated 50 % will either never open or will open and not be able to stay open.  For providers, class size reduction due to safety also means a reduction in funding.  Due to lost revenue, many families simply cannot afford childcare, preventing them from returning to work.

Dr. Beverly Lynn, CEO of Programs for Parents, the largest childcare and resource and referral agency in the State of New Jersey. PIP provides services to over 800 childcare providers in Essex County and financial assistance to the parents of over 10,000 children on a monthly basis to ensure that they have access to childcare in their communities  Despite the pandemic, Dr. Lynn shared that 500 childcare leaders and directors remained open for essential workers, adapting to changes in the admissions process, temperature checks, having a group size of 10, extensive cleaning, face masks for staff, social distancing and decreased center capacity were some of the challenge’s centers faced.

In addition, we also received an update from Trina Scordo, Executive Director of NJ Communities United of their organization’s partnership with CWA 1037 on childcare issues to assist some of the most vulnerable families and to work with childcare providers to increase the grassroots organizing work needed to ensure health and safety for all. Trina spoke about how the pandemic has pushed issues of inequality to the forefront, particularly structural racism, poverty, and inadequate healthcare. She was joined by Shaniya Hargrove, an in-home provider, and shop steward for CWA 1037, who focused on health and safety issues. They highlighted that to have safe and healthy facilities, workers must have stakeholder involvement whether they are home or center based.