Dunn to DCF: What are you doing to support NJ’s licensed child care centers?

Dunn to DCF: What are you doing to support NJ’s licensed child care centers?

TRENTON, N.J. – When pressed by Assemblywoman Aura Dunn during Monday’s Assembly budget hearing, the Department of Children and Families Commissioner Christine Norbut Beyer couldn’t address the workforce needs of child care centers, the decline in the number of community-based centers seeking licenses or the discrepancies in safety standards between private preschools and public school district pre-K programs.

“Can you speak to the department’s retention and recruitment plan for the child care workforce?” Dunn (R-Morris) asked.

“Unfortunately, I can’t. That’s not the work of my department,” said Beyer, who oversees safe staffing ratios for the delivery of services in licensed child care centers.

Beyer said that from 2020 to today, the number of child care centers in the state have decreased, although eight out of the 21 counties saw an increase. The capacity at the centers has also increased since 2020, but how that happened has yet to be explained since it would require more workers.

“As we know during Covid, the governor approved the shifting of the subsidies from attendance-based to enrollment-based, which truly helped stabilize the child care sector. But, now we are back to an attendance-based program. If you are licensing centers and you’re seeing centers not appear, going away, you know there is a correlation to this program. I would believe you would have some insight,” said Dunn, who sponsors legislation (A3225) to permanently base subsidy payments to licensed child care centers on enrollment.

The commissioner stated subsidies fell under the Department of Human Services.

According to Dunn, enrollment in district-operated preschool programs is projected to grow by 39% while licensed child care centers will only increase by 9.7%. Community-based providers are losing enrollment to public schools; however, DCF has no role in licensing the programs at schools.

“A 3-year-old is a 3-year-old. Their needs are the same. They are at the same developmental stage whether they’re in a school classroom or child care center,” said Dunn. “There’s a concern about district-based child care centers that they may not have the facilities to keep our youngest students safe. The standards are not on par with licensed child care centers.”

“It’s not a child care center. Universal pre-K is part of the state’s education system and so that’s not something that is part of my department,” Beyer replied.

DCF funding is increasing by $260,000 for fiscal year 2025 to $1.436 billion. Child care licensing revenue is down $1,000 to $320,000.

To watch the budget hearing, click here.