Reimagining child care: NJPRF partnering with United Way in effort to rebuild — and save — industry

$3.5M grant will fund United in Care initiative aimed at addressing longstanding shortage of child care options

New Jersey Pandemic Relief Fund officials are hoping to use some of the money the fund has raised to help reimagine child care in the state.

On Wednesday, the NJPRF announced it is partnering with United Way of Northern New Jersey to develop and fund United in Care, a multimillion-dollar initiative that seeks to address the longstanding shortage of high-quality, affordable child care options that has been exacerbated by the coronavirus, forcing working parents to scramble for alternatives, officials said.

The NJPRF is contributing $3.5 million to the $8.4 million, three-year pilot program that will connect independent, home-based, family care providers and licensed child-care centers. The goal is to transform the quality and affordability of child care in the state for asset-limited, income-constrained employed, or ALICE, parents.

Tammy Murphy. (File photo)

First lady Tammy Murphy, the founding chair of the NJPRF, said the connection between available child care and a healthy economy is strong.

“Safe, affordable quality child care is essential for working parents and critical to the economy,” she said. “This program goes beyond just providing direct support to child care operators, it addresses the massive loss of child care spots and overarching need for an innovative approach. That’s why we are so eager to fund this vital project.”

The United In Care initiative seeks to establish three hub and spoke models in North, Central and South Jersey, which will partner a center-based provider (hub) with between five and 10 registered, home-based family child care providers (spokes).

The hub and spoke model will allow home-based providers to access training in a state-approved quality curriculum, PPE, technology and other support that might include obtaining fresh, nutritious food for children in their care. Home-based providers will also be able to take advantage of shared back-office services that centers can provide. Another important feature is the ability of centers to provide substitute staffing for home-based providers.

The ultimate goal of the pilot project is to generate a proof-of-concept model that can be scaled across the state.

Officials believe it is the first time this concept has been attempted in multiple counties simultaneously.

Josh Weinreich. (File photo)

Josh Weinreich, the CEO of the NJPRF, said the organization worries about the future of the industry — one that is vital to the recovery.

“This entire industry could collapse at a time when the need for child care among working families is most acute,” he said. “At its core, it’s an economic stabilization project, that will get people back to work and reinvigorate an industry that was broken before the pandemic.”

Of course, doing this takes money.

Additional funding for the initiative will come from two major national foundations: the Overdeck Family Foundation and the Tepper Foundation, which are each contributing $1.2 million. NJPRF is hoping to identify other donors to contribute to the project, which could serve as a national model for building sustainability within the child-care industry.

According to NJPRF officials, child care in New Jersey was severely strained and underfunded, with few infant and toddler options before the pandemic hit. In New Jersey, 46% of all residents live in a child care desert, according to a 2019 report by the Center for American Progress.

The number of child care options is especially low among certain populations: 54% of rural families, 54% of low-income families and 52% of Latino families live in areas without enough licensed child care providers.

Since COVID-19 social distancing requirements were put in place, child care centers have been restricted to half occupancy, drastically reducing their revenues and their capacity to meet increased needs.

Nearly half of the licensed child care centers in the nation are at risk of closing because of the pandemic, further restricting supply, NJPRF officials said. At the same time, New Jersey does not have enough registered home-based family child care providers to pick up the slack.

Kiran Handa Gaudioso. (United Way NNJ)

United Way of Northern New Jersey CEO Kiran Handa Gaudioso said she is thrilled the NJPRF is recognizing that affordable, quality child care is central to achieving economic recovery for the state and struggling ALICE essential workers.

“We are proud to deploy our ALICE research and coalition-building skills to tackle inequities underscored by the pandemic that have kept quality care out of reach for too many hardworking parents,” she said.

Murphy noted that NJPRF is not only contributing financially to the project, but also brought key leaders and stakeholders in child care together to rethink the way child care is delivered in the state.

“The pandemic brought the inequitable issues surrounding child care to the forefront and challenged us to devise a thoughtful, creative solution that addresses a longstanding need,” Murphy said. “I am particularly proud of the central role the voices and leadership of child care providers, many of them women and minorities, played in the development of this innovative pilot.”

Alfa Demmellash. (File photo)

Alfa Demmellash, the co-founder and CEO of Rising Tide Capital and a member of the NJPRF board, is one such leader who helped make the pilot possible.

“This project is an example of the catalytic role of philanthropy in addressing urgent and complex problems,” Demmellash said.

The NJPRF was launched in March 2020 to address the economic, social and medical impact of COVID-19 on New Jersey’s most vulnerable citizens.

Officials say it has raised nearly $40 million from more than 60,000 donors and has to date distributed close to $30 million to 460 nonprofit organizations in all 21 New Jersey counties — and that every dollar raised by NJPRF has gone directly to those in need.