- Patricia Neuray
Reimagining Child Care
One of the biggest challenges facing parents today is access to affordable, high-quality childcare. With COVID-19, this has become an even more urgent issue for two main reasons; many lower-income parents are in service-related jobs where they work away from home, and many childcare centers are closing their doors because of the economic hardships caused by the pandemic. Nearly half of the nation's licensed childcare centers are at risk of going out of business because of the COVID-19, further restricting supply.
Fortunately, there is a piloted program in New Jersey, which, if successful, could be rolled out across the nation. The NJ Pandemic Relief Fund (NJPRF) is partnering with the United Way of Northern New Jersey to develop and fund an initiative that seeks to reinvent how childcare is delivered in the state. “This entire industry could collapse at a time when the need for childcare among working families is most acute,” NJPRF CEO Josh Weinreich said. "At its core, it's an economic stabilization project that will get people back to work and reinvigorate an industry that was broken even before the pandemic.”
This three-year pilot program entitled “United in Care” is funded by the NJPRF, the Overdeck Family Foundation, and the Tepper Charitable Foundation. The goal is to connect home-based family care providers with licensed childcare centers through a Hub and Spoke model. A center-based provider (hub) will connect five to ten registered, home-based family childcare providers (spokes). This will enable the home-based providers to access tools and services that they did not have access to previously, such as certified training, technology, and back-office support. The program will also provide childcare tuition funds to assist ALICE parents (asset limited, income constrained, employed) with the cost of childcare.
This innovative pilot program could not come at a more crucial time as childcare was an issue even before the pandemic. For example, 46% of all residents in the U.S. living in a childcare desert, according to a 2019 report by the Center for American Progress. Specific populations are significantly lacking in options such as rural, low-income, and families of color as they live in areas without enough licensed childcare providers, and many couldn't afford care even if it were physically accessible.
However, to test and scale the United in Care model, access to timely and accurate data and predictive analytics will be essential. BCT Partners, a Newark-based minority-owned firm, will be leading the development of the data platform to support the United In Care pilot. “As a company dedicated to equity and systems change, BCT is proud to serve as a thought leader and implementation partner for United In Care,” said Lawrence Hibbert, President of BCT Partners. “We are excited to collaborate in the design and construction of a data platform that leverages machine learning and advanced data analytics to assess and predict childcare needs, coordinate service delivery, and evaluate the effectiveness and impact of the model for future scaling.” Forbes named BCT Partners as one of America’s Best Management Consulting Firms of 2020 due to their ability to solve complex problems through their expertise in D&I combined with their unrivaled use of technology and data.
The hope is that this N.J. program will prove successful and lead to a model that can be rolled out across the nation. The First Lady of New Jersey and founding chair of NJPRF, Tammy Murphy, said, “Safe, affordable quality childcare is essential for working parents and critical to the economy. This program goes beyond providing direct support to childcare operators; it addresses the massive loss of childcare spots and overarching the need for an innovative approach. That's why we were so eager to fund this important project."
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