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United In Care

Revolutionize the way early childhood education is delivered in a post pandemic world.

Photo of Kathy Kwasnik
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Project: United in Care

United In Care is a dynamic, unique new way of providing PreK education in a post pandemic world by utilizing the strengths of center-based quality early learning within smaller individual learning environments.  By pairing local family-based childcare providers with quality rated larger childcare centers we can create an environment where young children are able to learn within the construct of small family-based childcare home while being supported by a larger center already quality rated by the state of New Jersey.

The biggest challenge facing preschool programs today in response to the COVID-19 pandemic is the center-based model’s financial inability to provide quality learning in a socially distant way.  Many centers are on the brink of closure because the expense/revenue ratios will be turned upside-down as they operationalize strict social distancing protocols.  Most childcare centers survive primarily on income generated from tuition paid by parents.  If required to reduce enrollment from their maximum capacity it means that revenues will be reduced to unsustainable levels.  Our model proposes developing a network of family providers who can care for smaller numbers of children yet still remain connected to a larger child care center. This will enable them to have access to a state approved quality curriculum which they can use in their home-based program and take advantage of the shared services that centers can provide.  

Problem Statement: Child Care Challenges in New Jersey

According to the recent United Way of Northern New Jersey ALICE Report, 1.2 million households (38.5%) in New Jersey are unable to afford the state’s high cost of living. That number includes those living in poverty and the population called ALICE, which stands for Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed.  

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the childcare system in New Jersey was severely strained.   The cost to run high quality programs was steadily increasing with inadequate funding or governmental support, therefore making quality childcare unaffordable and out of reach for many families.  Many childcare centers closed their doors over the past decade.  Additionally, during this same time period, the number of family-based providers declined by more than 20 percent. This changing climate created childcare deserts throughout the state.  In the post-pandemic era, the situation is expected to be further exacerbated.  The straining factors include anticipated capacity reduction, decreased revenues and increased expenses for added supplies and staff.  Experts predict that nationwide there could be a reduction upwards of 50% in this industry.

Possible Strategic Supports and Innovative Solutions:

Responding to the changing environment to meet the continually increasing childcare needs of families requires bold steps. This includes embracing innovative solutions and securing strategic supports to fuel operations and sustainability. United in Care is one such innovative approach that combines collaboration and shared services to meet the evolving needs of families.

The implementation of a Shared Services model by partnering center-based providers with registered family-based providers is one such solution.  Some benefits of Shared Services include the potential to reduce operating costs of existing services and increase both compliance/control and consistency.  

These partnerships can bring together the best of two worlds by combining the strengths of childcare centers with the strengths of registered family-based providers. The program would integrate comprehensive services and resources offered in Grow NJ Kids centers into the array of family care settings.

United Way of Northern New Jersey Success by 6 staff will work with the community-based partners to identify opportunities to create localize shared services clusters. With a focus on ensuring the viability of quality programs the coordination of resources and supports will include things such as fiscal supports, insurance, joint purchasing and shared support staff.

Additionally, the Shared Service effort will be supported by Quality Improvement Specialists (QIS) to ensure high quality programming.  The QIS will work as a liaison between early education programs enrolled in Grow NJ Kids, the State of New Jersey’s quality rating system, and Registered Family Child Care Providers.  

United in Care presents an innovative approach to collaboration and shared services to meet the evolving needs of families, the childcare industry and the community.  We will empower families and the community by enhancing the quality and accessibility of early education and childcare.

What part(s) of the pre-COVID school system do you wish to leave in the past? Why?

Early childhood education has struggled for many years to be a sustainable system. Individual child care centers have operated in silos bearing the brunt of the cost of providing education to young children without having the benefit of a larger networked system like public schools do. In addition, family based child care centers, where care and education is provided in a home environment, have struggled even more and many of those centers have closed down due to rising costs. By implementing the model we are suggesting we could help many smaller family home centers become sustainable small businesses once again while providing the larger centers with the opportunity to abide by social distancing guidelines that most likely will be put in place. We would like to see a new post COVID early education system where larger child care centers can be partnered with smaller family based child care homes and the costs of providing care can be shared between both systems and those costs reduced by shared service arrangements. Such a solution might never have been considered in a pre-pandemic world.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and what inspired you to share this idea.

I am the Director of Success By 6 at United Way of Northern New Jersey and have been very alarmed by the increasing reports that early childhood education as we know it may be totally altered by our current state of affairs.  Some statistics are pointing to the fact that 50% of child care centers may close as a result of the pandemic.  Over and over everyday I am hearing more personal stories from our partner early education centers that they may not be able to survive.  And we all fear that when our economy reopens if those centers are not there to serve children they will be placed in low quality, unsafe situations that do not adequately prepare them for entry into school and life.  As a result of brainstorming sessions with many of our community partners we came up with the concept to perhaps save the centers and extend quality learning into not just those centers but to the many family based education centers that are also part of our network. If we are able to secure funding to start these networks it is our hope that they will eventually become self supporting and we can further extend pilots across our state and ultimately the country thereby revolutionizing early education as we know it.

What region are you located in?

  • North America

Where are you located?

We serve a five county geography in northern New Jersey which includes Sussex, Warren, Morris, Somerset and suburban Essex Counties. We are also in conversation with other United Ways across New Jersey about the possibility of implementing this model across the state. Our footprint ranges from very rural areas to more urban and suburban places. We do cover an Abbott district as well, which is a school district that has been deemed very low income by the state of New Jersey, and that is in our Warren County area.


Join the conversation:

Photo of Michelle Roers

The child care/early childhood education system as we know it is severely strained. COVID-19 and current events will further strain our economy making it harder to sustain this industry and adequately care for and education our small children. Our children need this system to survive and thrives! Our children, working families and providers/educators deserve better. We need to come up with sustainable solutions that allow our children to thrive. This way of thinking/this model may hold some promise.

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