TRENTON – In an effort to increase participation and make state programs more accessible the Senate Education Committee today approved legislation sponsored by Majority Leader M. Teresa Ruiz and Senator Sandra Bolden Cunningham to create the Department of Early Childhood within the executive branch of state government.
“There is nothing more important than ensuring the success of New Jersey’s kids, and that begins at the very start of a child’s life. Proper care from pregnancy through age 5 and beyond is vital to the healthy development of children and must be a priority in both shaping policies and delivering services,” said Senator Ruiz (D-Essex). “By bringing everyone together, aligning our existing programs and elevating a clear focus on zero to five we can better support our children and families during this formative time.”
The bill, S-2475, would bring the programs and services currently offered in four separate state departments – which include child care resource and referral agencies, school nutrition and WIC breastfeeding programs – under one department. The commissioner would serve as a member of the governor’s cabinet, subject to the advice and consent of the Senate.
There are currently a wide variety of early childhood programs, or programs that serve young children, spread across various departments including the Department of Education, Department of Children and Families, Department of Human Services and the Department of Health.
The bill transfers the functions of the current Division of Early Childhood Education in the Department of Education to the Department of Early Childhood. In addition, the bill transfers to the new department certain programs and services from: the Department of Education relating to students in grades preschool through three; and all responsibilities of the Department of Human Services, the Department of Children and Families and the Department of Health relating to children from pregnancy to age eight.
“The earliest years in a child’s life are the most important, and bringing the programs that serve our families from prenatal care to elementary school under one umbrella will allow us to ensure that we are delivering them in the most effective way possible,” said Senator Cunningham (D-Hudson). “We must ensure that parents and providers have access to the services they need.”
Research on early child development shows the critical need for intervention and supports as early as during pregnancy and through infancy. The brain develops most rapidly in the first few years of a child’s life and, during these critical years, the foundation is laid for a child’s physical and mental health, according to information from the World Health Organization.
The bill was released from committee by a vote of 3-2.