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ACNJ Press Release

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For Immediate Release
April 30, 2018

CONTACT: Nancy Parello | Advocates for Children of New Jersey | 908-399-6031 | nparello@acnj.org
Adam Steinberg|Mellon/ACLS Public Fellow, Policy Solutions | Reinvestment Fund |215-574-5991| adam.Steinberg@reinvestment.com

Federal program feeds NJ’s youngest children
New report offers strategies for expansion

A federal child nutrition program helps child care providers feed young children, giving them the nourishment they need to grow and thrive, according to a new report issued today by Advocates for Children of New Jersey (ACNJ) and Reinvestment Fund.

Based on a survey of more than 120 child care providers and organizations acting as sponsors in the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) and interviews with sponsors and food vendors, the report found that sponsors overwhelming agreed the program is a valuable part of their child care services and that children are eating healthier because of their participation.

In the survey, conducted by ACNJ, nearly 90 percent also agreed that children need the nutrition they receive through CACFP and might go hungry without the program.

“For some children, these are their only meals,’’ said Simone Bana, executive director, Programs for Parents, a Newark-based non-profit that acts as a CACFP sponsor to family homes and center-based providers.

Despite some operational challenges, nearly all respondents – 95 percent – would recommend the program to other child care providers, primarily because they recognize the tremendous benefits children and families receive through CACFP.

In addition to providing much-needed nutrition, the program helps young children and their families learn about new foods and how to make healthy choices.

“The message is clear: CACFP helps young children and their families to not only receive nutritious food each day, but also to develop healthy lifelong eating habits,’’ said Cecilia Zalkind, president & CEO, Advocates for Children of New Jersey. “Unfortunately, this critical nutrition is not reaching every young child who could benefit.’’According to state officials, 530 New Jersey organizations, including child care providers, non-profit organizations, schools and local government, among others, are CACFP sponsors. These sponsors coordinate the CACFP program for child care centers and family homes, providing oversight to 1,400 sites that serve children ages 0 to 13.

An additional 12 organizations serve as sponsors for people caring for children in their own homes, providing food and training to 476 of these family child care homes.

Sponsors ensure meals are delivered to their sites, oversee training of site-based staff and ensure proper record-keeping. Sites record the number of children fed each day, participate in trainings with sponsors and meet health and safety requirements.

In New Jersey, 280,000 children face hunger each day, according to Feed America’s Map the Meal Gap. Capitalizing on federal nutrition assistance is crucial to combating childhood hunger, which can seriously harm the growth and development of young children.

The report identified several challenges to successful program implementation, with the three most cited issues being federal reimbursement rates, paperwork and administrative costs.

The New Jersey Department of Agriculture, which administers the program on a state level, is working to reduce paperwork burdens by moving to an electronic record-keeping system. Currently, most CACFP sponsors must fill out paper forms.

Difficulty in contracting with food vendors to provide healthy meals was also identified as an issue by some sponsors, while vendors said problems arise when sponsors are rigid in adhering to contracts, even as availability of fresh produce and other food varies.

“The first step to improving CACFP’s impact is really understanding its value and challenges,’’ said Adam Steinberg, Mellon/ACLS public fellow at Reinvestment Fund, who worked on the study. “Through this study, we were able to identify some of the concerns and inefficiencies that can create tension and compromise the quality of food served to young children through this program. Fortunately, there are many workable solutions that can enhance the quality of the program for young kids and their families.’’

The report’s key recommendations include:

  • Create food buying hubs to make it easier for small centers to strike contracts with food vendors to provide fresh, healthy food to young children.
  • Encourage more school districts to act as CACFP meal vendors or sponsors.
  • Facilitate sponsor/vendor relations through trainings, technical assistance and webinars.
  • Offer continuing education credits for CACFP training and offer trainings at more locations throughout the state.
  • Expedite the implementation of an online record-keeping system.
  • Collect accurate data to measure participation and progress toward expansion.
  • Conduct outreach to engage more child care providers to participate in the program.

NJDA officials said they are working on several of these steps, including offering continuing education credits, implementing the online system and providing more training and technical assistance to both food vendors and sponsors.

“Taking these steps will help ensure that more young children receive the nutrition they need for healthy growth and development, improving their chances for later success in school and in life,’’ Zalkind said. “As part of our Right from the Start Campaign, we urge child care providers, food vendors and state officials to work together to ensure all young children have the nutrition they need to grow, develop and be healthy.’’

Read the report.

Advocates for Children of New Jersey is the trusted, independent voice putting children’s needs first for nearly 40 years.  Our work results in better laws and policies, more effective funding and stronger services for children and families.  And it means that more children are given the chance to grow up safe, healthy, and educated.  For more information, visit www.acnj.org.  Follow ACNJ on Twitter @acnjforkids and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/acnjforkids.



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