As a lifelong resident and the owner of a child care center in New Jersey for 17 years, my staff of 50 and I have invested heavily professionally, financially and emotionally to ensure that children as young as six weeks through 6 years old are safe and secure in our facility.
Most people do not realize the immense effort and strict regulatory guidelines that child care centers operate under. Nor would they realize that child care centers are specifically designed to serve this very fragile population.
As a matter of fact, in most cases, it takes over a year to get approval and licensed from NJ regulatory agencies to open a child care center. Everything is meticulously scrutinized for not only the safety of the children at the facility but also to assure that the best practices in early childhood development are practiced.
In addition, child care centers in our state must also be approved with EPA guidelines, checking water supply, soil samples, asbestos, lead, radon, and all locations are assessed so as not to be near bio-hazards such as nail salons or dry cleaners.
Emergency procedures are scrupulously planned and practiced with specific evacuation cribs, equipment, and accessibility based on these young ages. Buildings must be painstakingly planned and retrofitted.
Furthermore, pursuant to the Child Care Center Licensing Act, N.J.S.A. 30:5B-1 the Department of Children and Families is authorized to inspect and monitor all aspects of facilities including employees, documents, records, fire codes, health codes, immunization requirements and certainly best practices in emotional, physical and cognitive childhood development to determine a center's compliance with State and local ordinances, codes and regulations. DCF is the state’s first comprehensive agency dedicated to ensuring the safety, well-being, and success of children, youth, families, and communities.
This is just one of many reasons why I oppose proposed legislation (A. 5066, S. 3330) which would allow public schools to retrofit outdated, outmoded and under-used space to serve as child care centers. Such a plan is reckless and indisputably not in the best interest or safety of these children.
Either taxpayers must spend many millions of dollars to upgrade these old, tired schools for modern-day child care of young children or this fragile population will be put in harm's way by being cared for in substandard facilities-most of which would never be approved by DCF in accordance to NJ law.
In addition, public schools do not operate with the same state Board of Health requirements with respect to immunizations as are mandated for child care center children. Even more alarming is the security of all the children, most especially for those older children in attendance at the public schools. In today’s day and age with active shooter training, lock-down drills, bullet-proof vestibules and very limited access of visitors inside the schools, how could we possible safeguard these new standards?
Childcare centers do not have set drop-off or pick-up times. They also have frequent visitors and new parent tours. Our public school's security systems are not equipped to work this way and hence they will now be compromised by ultimately having to open their doors on a revolving basis to a whole new population of people coming in and out at all different times. This is an awful idea with no clear benefit to anyone.
Lastly, this legislation was hastily drawn up and voted on by people without education about industry standards and regulations, none of the necessary reports concerning demographics, population growth analysis, current class size analysis in public schools, cost analysis to retrofitting the rooms, etc.
What happens if the population grows and these empty rooms are then needed for school-age children?
Most of our towns have already seen this happen when they went from selling off school buildings during times of low enrollment to only a few years later putting classrooms in temporary trailers because there wasn’t any room left when the population grew.
Nor was there any evaluation of the fact that the government ineffectively and unconstitutionally competing with an industry that employees over 87,000 (mostly women), has over 4,000 centers paying business taxes and pays over $100,000,000 in property taxes annually could greatly decrease the tax revenue our state realizes every year.
Who is going to make up for this gap in the budget?
Join me in letting your state legislators know your concerns with this legislation that will affect not only the 350,000 babies and toddlers in this state but also certainly the security of the children already in attendance in our public schools.
The state’s child care industry offers more than 4,000 centers across the state; there is already plenty of room for all, they are already equipped and prepared for all the specific needs of this age group, they are already well trained to care and educate the specific needs of very young children, they are already regulated and licensed by New Jersey government agencies and all of this is without requiring even one additional cent in cost to our already overburdened taxpayers in New Jersey.
Whether you are looking at this situation as Economics 101 or in the best interest of our youngest children it is a bad idea all around.
Bridget O'Brien is the owner of SuperKids in Summit.