The release of our New Jersey Babies Count
was a culmination of an amazing journey by ACNJ and by me personally. It was a long time coming!
ACNJ is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year
. When we were founded in 1978, our focus was on children in the child welfare and juvenile justice systems. It wasn’t until the late 1990’s that we began to think about expanding our agenda to advocate for children at an earlier time before problems became a crisis. I still remember the formal decision that the ACNJ board of trustees made to use our resources – both human and capital – to advocate for the health and development of young children.
We started our work with preschool. I feel privileged to have been part of the Abbott story
, helping to create high quality preschool for 3 and 4 year olds in disadvantaged communities. ACNJ believed that this was the beginning of our work, not the end. We knew that learning didn’t begin at age 3, but much earlier – even before birth – and we were committed to developing an advocacy agenda for the very youngest children.
It took a while, but we have finally gotten back to that commitment we made years ago. In the meantime, we have learned so much more about what is needed for healthy growth and development, starting prenatally. We know more about the importance of supporting parents of young children and how best to do that. We understand the need for early health care – not just physical but mental and dental, too. We realize that child care does more than help parents work – it is a child’s first educational opportunity outside the family. And we’ve also learned about the lifelong impact on children when those early years are fraught with poverty and trauma.
This is the purpose of Babies Count
: to provide a clear picture, based on objective data, of how babies are doing in NJ – what we are doing well to support their healthy growth and development and what still needs to be improved. We want Babies Count to provide a roadmap for success and a benchmark to measure our progress. As you will see in the data, the picture is not all positive. But I am hopeful, because we have already made a start. Continue reading.