When a group of lawmakers floated a proposal earlier this year to cut preschool for some of New Jersey’s most disadvantaged young students, Advocates for Children of New Jersey (ACNJ) sprung to action.
ACNJ called on its network of more than 5,000 grassroots supporters to stand up for kids. Teachers, parents, senior citizens, advocates and community members responded. They wrote letters, sent e-mails and made phone calls to state lawmakers and the state governor. Related events were held, and the media caught wind. The message was simple: Preschool gives children a strong start in school. Someone needs to protect this critical investment in early learning.
It worked. The ill-conceived proposal was soon scuttled. And, even in these tough fiscal times, funding for preschool was protected in the state budget. The real-life result? Thousands of children will benefit from this early start to learning that, research shows, leads to school success.
This is just one way Advocates for Children makes a difference for thousands of kids across New Jersey. The nonprofit, nonpartisan organization works to achieve a singular vision— that all children have the chance to grow up safe, healthy and educated no matter where they live or how much money their parents earn.
“For more than 30 years, ACNJ has been a powerful voice for children,” says Cecilia Zalkind, ACNJ’s executive director. “And we accomplish this with the help of thousands of New Jersey residents who share our belief that children are our future and must come first when we make critical decisions about their future.”
To achieve this goal, ACNJ works closely with legislators, mayors, top state officials and other key decision makers to assist in making smart choices for children, whether it is a funding question or about policy direction.
“Investments in our children reap results,” adds Zalkind. “Not for just one child, but for thousands of children all over New Jersey. For these children, changes in public policy mean the difference between growing up healthy and strong or facing a lifelong struggle to survive. When we help our children to grow up safe, healthy and educated, they become productive adults, contributing to New Jersey’s communities, securing our future and making the state a better place to live.”
The organization focuses on several primary areas, including early learning, child protection, health and supports for low-income families.
Areas of Accomplishment
- Improving early childhood education. To succeed in school, children must read on target by 3rd grade. High-quality preschool is the first step in early learning. A child’s preschool experience must be closely coordinated with the early elementary years, when learning is interrelated from year to year. ACNJ works with a broad group of educators, state officials, education associations and others to build this quality early learning system in schools throughout New Jersey.
- Expanding healthcare for children. ACNJ was instrumental in the creation of NJ FamilyCare, the state’s free or low-cost child health coverage program. The organization is also at the forefront of efforts to enroll more children, while fighting proposed cuts to this popular program. Thanks to such efforts, tens of thousands of formerly uninsured children now have coverage, increasing the chances that kids get the medical care needed to help them grow up healthy.
- Enhancing the understanding of children’s issues. ACNJ regularly publishes reports and sponsors forums and workshops to give people the necessary information to advocate on behalf of New Jersey’s children. This includes the New Jersey Kids Count project, which annually publishes data that tracks child well-being and informs policy makers and the public about areas of success and issues that demand attention.
- Supporting safe families. The organization’s advocacy has resulted in thousands of families receiving assistance to feed, clothe and shelter their children. It also works to ensure that children who have been abused or neglected are given safe, permanent homes, first through family reunification or placement in an adoptive home.
- Teaching people about children and the law. ACNJ’s KidLaw Center equips parents with the information to be their child’s strongest advocate. The center provides free publications, trainings and Web-based resources on various legal issues at www.kidlaw.org as well as responds to individual calls about special education and child protection.
A cornerstone of ACNJ’s success is its independence. The organization is strictly nonpartisan and accepts no government funding for advocacy. ACNJ relies on support from individual donors, foundations and corporations to support its efforts. “This frees us to focus on our sole mission— helping children,” explains Zalkind.
To learn more and join ACNJ’s network of child advocates, visit www.acnj.org.