Improving Access to High-Quality Child Care is Everybody's Business

How to increase access to high-quality, affordable care for our children was the issue as a wide variety of stakeholders gathered in Vineland, NJ (Cumberland County) on Friday, September 20, 2019 for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Region 2 Roundtable on Improving Access to High-Quality Child Care. It was clear from the outset, to truly support working families will require partnership and collaboration among many different stakeholders because child care is everybody's business. Quality child care is a necessity for parents and a sound investment for the employee, the employer and the entire community. As one participant said, "Child care should not be an afterthought."
 
The Region 2 Roundtable held at Rowan College of South Jersey, the third of ten planned sessions that will be held across the United States, was focused on rural concerns. We were gratified when people said, "Thank you for coming to South Jersey. Often we feel ignored because we're so isolated." Other roundtables will be held in urban and suburban locales and explore additional points of view.
 
At the Vineland, NJ roundtable, Shannon Christian, Director of the Administration for Children and Families' (ACF) Office of Child Care; Joyce A. Thomas, ACF Regional Administrator in Region 2 (New Jersey, New York, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands); and Frances Sykes, President of the Pascal Sykes Foundation headquartered in Red Bank, NJ; welcomed roundtable participants. The opening panel featured a local parent, a child care provider and an employer who shared their perspectives on overcoming challenges and acting on opportunities to increase access to high quality child care. The parent said, “In a perfect world, good quality child care would be offered 24/7”
 
Highlights included 120 attendees, representing New Jersey, New York and Puerto Rico. Parents, providers, employers, state and territorial child care officials, child care workforce and training experts, and philanthropic organizations split into small groups to discuss challenges and recommendations to improve access to high-quality child care. Attendees heard child care leaders from New Jersey, New York and Puerto Rico talk about how their jurisdictions have used an infusion of new money from the federal Child Care and Development Fund to support initiatives and policy goals. Many attendees were unaware of some of the changes. The New Jersey Department of Human Services was in listen mode during the Roundtable and indicated what they heard was helpful in honing their direct communication efforts with parents. We closed with presentations about exciting innovations and system changes in New Jersey; of particular interest was the Community Transportation shuttle, operated by United Way of Gloucester County. Riders pay $1 and can drop their children off at child care and then take the shuttle to work. The Community Shuttle also operates in Atlantic County through Cross County Connection TMA, Inc. and in Cumberland County through Gateway Community Action Partnership. All three county Community Shuttle operations are supported by the Pascale Sykes Foundation and New Jersey Transit.
 
Many challenges identified (e.g., provider qualifications, affordability for both parents and providers, hours not conducive to parents or employer needs, etc.) are not exclusive to rural areas, but they are often exacerbated by hard to access services and resources. We heard how many are working to plan, innovate and improve child care services and policies. We heard visions and recommendations for a future of improved access to high quality child care. No matter what your role or interest, if you care about supporting working families, you found the meeting productive and rewarding.
 
Attendees left the Roundtable energized, excited and encouraged by the various stakeholders support for attention to child care as a support for all families, but especially for this rural community.

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