Blog

By Marsha Basloe, President, Child Care Services Association

Working Parents Need Access to Quality Child Care – More Support Needed for Child Care Workforce

Currently, throughout North Carolina, nearly half a million (457,706) children under age six live in a family where all parents in the household are working.[1] Many of these children are in some type of child care setting every week so that their parents can obtain and retain jobs that sustain and grow our state’s economy. 

A study by the Committee for Economic Development (CED) shows that child care as an industry has an economic impact in North Carolina of $3.15 billion annually ($1.47 billion in direct revenue and $1.67 billion in spillover in other industries throughout our counties and cities).[2] Child care programs have an overall job impact throughout the state of 64,852, which includes 47,282 individuals who are employed within child care centers or who operate a home-based business plus another 17,570 in spillover jobs – created through the activity of those operating child care programs.[3] The economic impact of child care matters because it helps drive local economies. When parents can access child care, they are more likely to enter the workforce and stay employed. 

The Child Care Workforce: Early Brain Builders

Source: Committee for Economic Development, 2019

What we know is that child care is not only a work support for parents but also an early learning setting for young children. Research shows that a child’s earliest years are when the brain is developing the fastest – forming a foundation for all future social, emotional, physical and cognitive development. During this time, more than 1 million new neural connections are formed every second.[4] This is important to understand because both parents and child care providers play an important role in supporting healthy child development – helping to shape the brain’s foundation for all future learning (e.g., school readiness and school success).

Because both genes and experiences impact a child’s brain development,[5] the child care workforce plays a critical role in supporting early learning. In essence, they are brain builders – working with children to support a strong foundation on which later learning depends – just like the foundation for a house, all floors above the basement depend on the construction or sturdiness of the basement.

The Workforce that Supports All Other Workforces

Despite the important role that child care educators play in supporting our next generation (as well as supporting the ability of parents to work), the current economic model for child care programs falls short of supporting child care workers in a way that recognizes their role in child development. How so? The operating budget for child care programs is based on parent fees and state subsidies paid for low-income children.

Because the current cost of child care in North Carolina is so high (e.g., $9,254 annually for center-based infant care),[6] program directors try to keep costs down because they know parents can’t pay more. However, what this translates to is low wages for the child care field. In today’s economy, where the fast-food industry and retail sales pay higher hourly wages and often offer benefits, the competition for the workforce to enter the early childhood field is steep. In fact, the early childhood field is experiencing a workforce crisis.

In North Carolina, the median wage earned for child care teachers is about $10.97 per hour ($22,818 per year if full time) and assistant teachers earn $9.97 per hour.[7] These wages represent a modest 0.7% increase in buying power despite much larger gains in education. The study also found that statewide, 39% of teachers and teacher assistants had needed at least one type of public assistance (e.g., TANF, Medicaid, SNAP/food stamps, etc.) in the past three years.

Child Care Services Association (CCSA) is conducting a county-level early childhood workforce study for the Division of Child Development and Early Education (DCDEE) that will be completed in August 2020. Once completed, North Carolina will have additional information.

Source: Committee for Economic Development, 2019

For context, many child care educators are supporting their own families. With these wages, they fall well short of the level that qualifies them for public food assistance benefits (e.g., a family of three with income under $27,000 per year qualifies for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program – SNAP).[8] It’s not hard to understand that workers in low wage jobs face stresses in making ends meet, in supporting their own families and in parking their stress outside the classroom door when working with young children. 

In North Carolina, the state funds two programs administered by CCSA to support the early childhood workforce:

  • Child Care WAGE$® Program, which provides education-based salary supplements to low paid teachers, directors and family child care educators working with children ages birth to five. The program is designed to increase retention, education and compensation. The Child Care WAGE$® Program is a funding collaboration between local Smart Start partnerships (55 partnerships) and the Division of Child Development and Early Education (DCDEE).[9] Salary supplements are earned – tied to the recipient’s level of education, with teachers and family child care providers awarded on a different scale than directors.

These strategies are invaluable to better support the child care workforce for the important work that they do.  It raises salaries sometimes almost a dollar an hour. You can see the impact of these programs on our website. This is an investment in the workforce that supports all other workforces, AND also an investment that results in better outcomes for our children (e.g., brain-building that leads to school readiness). We hope these programs will grow in the years ahead to support our early childhood educators who care for our young children and families.

As we approach Thanksgiving, I am thankful for the work of our early educators. It is time for our communities to think about compensation for the early childhood workforce in a manner that reflects their contribution to our state’s prosperity.


[1] U.S. Census Bureau, Table B23008, Age of Own Children Under 18 Years in Families and Subfamilies by Living Arrangements by Employment Status of Parents, 2018 American Community Survey, 1 Year Estimates. https://data.census.gov/cedsci/table?q=b23008&hidePreview=true&table=B23008&tid=ACSDT1Y2018.B23008&lastDisplayedRow=15&g=0400000US37

[2] Child Care in State Economies: 2019 Update, Committee for Economic Development, 2019. https://www.ced.org/childcareimpact

[3] Ibid.

[4] Harvard University Center on the Developing Child, Brain Architecture. https://developingchild.harvard.edu/science/key-concepts/brain-architecture/

[5] Ibid.

[6] The U.S. and the High Price of Child Care: An Examination of a Broken System, Child Care Aware of America, 2019. https://usa.childcareaware.org/advocacy-public-policy/resources/priceofcare/

[7] Child Care Services Association, Working in Early Care and Education in North Carolina, 2015,  https://www.childcareservices.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/2015-Workforce-Report-FNL.pdf        

[8] U.S. Department of Agriculture, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, eligibility 2019. https://www.fns.usda.gov/snap/recipient/eligibility

[9] WAGE$ North Carolina, Child Care Services Association.  https://www.childcareservices.org/wages-nc/

[10] AWARD$ North Carolina, Child Care Services Association. https://www.childcareservices.org/awards/

Written by Mary Erwin, CCR&R Council Coordinator at CCSA

“When we identify where our privilege intersects with somebody else’s oppression, we’ll find our opportunities to make real change.” 
― Ijeoma Oluo

“Better Together!” That was the theme of this year’s 2019 CCR&R Institute held at the Greensboro Downtown Marriott on March 12th and 13th, and it was an opportunity to congregate, enjoy each other’s company, learn how to excel at our jobs, get rejuvenated and also to explore how implicit bias affects early childhood education.

Over 170 staff and 24 presenters from child care resource and referral, Smart Start, Frank Porter Graham Center, UNCG, SchoolHouse Connection, Self Help, the Salvation Army, the Abecedarian Education Foundation, MomsRising and many more gathered from every region across the state for the annual CCR&R professional development conference. Sponsors of the event included Kaplan Early Learning®, Lakeshore Learning®, Discount School Supply®, Teachstone®, The Greensboro Convention and Visitors’ Bureau and Self Help Credit Union. The NC CCR&R Council could not convene the conference without these corporate champions!

Dr. Kristi Snuggs

Conference highlights included:

  • ThinkBabies® Train the Trainer through the NC Early Education Coalition, Dr. Kristi Snuggs’ opening plenary speech about upcoming opportunities and positive changes at the NC Division of Child Development and Early Education and the terrific keynote and session from Dr. Walter Gilliam on implicit bias in early education!
  • Session attendees also learned about increasing access to subsidized child care for children experiencing homelessness and how to be a better advocate for babies and toddlers.
  • Technical assistance and professional development staff received training on helping child care providers understand and address children’s challenging behaviors and the benefits of coaching and mentoring when working with teachers in the classroom.
  • The impacts of family separation on immigrant families and processes to strengthen resilience among children was a popular subject.
  • Save the Children shared the unique needs of children in emergency situations and offered a continuing education credit on helping children cope with crisis and helping caregivers recover!
  • Paid family leave was a topic as well as using multicultural books in the classroom.
  • Community Self Help taught CCR&Rs how to help providers construct budgets that work in their favor as well as recognizing trends and formulating the true cost of child care.
Woolworth’s Lunch Counter

Tuesday night’s reception at the International Civil Rights Center and Museum welcomed approximately 100 conference attendees for a beautiful cocktail party and tour of the original Woolworth’s Lunch Counter where four NC A&T University students started the sit-in movement in 1960. The lovely event was catered by Guilford Child Development’s Regional CCR&R, sponsor of the event along with the Greensboro Convention and Visitor’s Bureau!

Dr. Gilliam

Dr. Gilliam leads The Edward Zigler Center in Child Development and Social Policy at Yale University where research and policy analyses focus on early childhood development and intervention programs. During the keynote on Wednesday, attendees gained insight on how implicit biases affect nearly everything we do, even as early childhood professionals. The keynote address dug down to the core of so many of our current issues. Click here to see and hear Dr. Gilliam’s similar keynote address at Dayton’s Readiness Conference.

Quotes from the conference:

“You and the NC CCR&R Council team did a phenomenal job!”

“Great event. Good energy all around. You guys have it going on!”

“It was great working with you.”

“I thought I was in a TED Talk and I was going to vote for [Dr. Gilliam] for president!”

Marsha Basloe, President of Child Care Services Association

When businesses consider expansion or relocation, they look for thriving communities with a strong social infrastructure that promotes a good quality of life. A key component of this social infrastructure is early care and education. Research tells us that high quality early learning opportunities both foster children’s development and facilitate parents’ employment.

But “social infrastructure” is a rather technical term for what we know is most important to child development and long-term child and family outcomes – relationships are the key! A child’s first relationships and interactions with family members and early educators are the most critical in supporting healthy development.

It follows then that the backbone of quality early education is a stable, qualified and compensated early childhood workforce. Those first caregiving relationships with early educators provide the foundation for healthy development through nurturing, early learning opportunities and partnership and communication with families.

The recently released 2018 Early Childhood Workforce Index provides a snapshot of early childhood workforce conditions. According to this Index, for the 36,550 members of the early childhood teaching workforce statewide, North Carolina is making progress in some areas like educational supports, compensation and data but is stalled in others such as work environments and family and income supports.

Child care workforce compensation and lack of supports barriers to quality

In contrast to what we know about the vital role of early educators in fostering early learning and development, they are woefully underpaid and these positions are in fact considered ‘low wage’ jobs. In 2017, the median hourly wage for child care professionals in North Carolina was $9.86. Early educators often do not earn enough to meet their basic needs and teachers of infants and toddlers are the most likely to be in economic distress. This is in direct opposition with what we know about the first three years of brain development and the part early educators have in fostering this growth.

In North Carolina, strategies have been developed by Child Care Services Association (CCSA) to increase the education and compensation of early educators and reduce turnover in the child care workforce. The T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood® Scholarship Program provides comprehensive educational scholarships that link the completion of formal education to compensation increases and the Child Care WAGE$® Program offers salary supplements based on level of education. Results of these strategies include increased workforce retention, increased education levels and improved capacity to deliver high quality care.  In response to the disparities for early educators teaching the youngest children, CCSA will have the opportunity to administer a new statewide salary supplement initiative from the Division of Child Development and Early Education (DCDEE) that will support full-time infant and toddler teachers in increasing their earnings based on education.

Families struggle with access to early education

A comprehensive early education system with qualified teachers is one part of the equation but families must be able to access this child care and right now affordability is a significant barrier for many families. According to the 2018 Early Childhood Workforce Index, North Carolina is ‘stalled’ in the areas of Family Income Supports and Health and Well-being. The Index notes the absence of the following in North Carolina: a higher than federal minimum wage indexed for inflation, paid sick days law, paid family leave law and expanded Medicaid eligibility.

Without these critical family supports or a publicly funded early childhood education system for children birth to five in place, low and middle-income families face difficulty affording high quality child care. The high cost of early education can force families to make tradeoffs that impact their economic security and/or welfare of their children. In addition, child care costs may contribute to decision making about whether or not to have children and family size. In a New York Times released survey, young adults identified child care costs as one of the main factors in having fewer children than they considered ideal.

While North Carolina has invested in its early childhood system and workforce, and has several national program models to show for it, there is much still to be done to adequately support early educators and families. We need to do more to enhance our programs and policies to ensure there is a robust, highly educated and appropriately compensated early childhood workforce and early childhood system birth to five for all families to utilize. Investments in early education will foster individual and family well-being and ensure communities are prepared for business growth.

For more information:

Early Childhood Workforce Index

New York Times: Americans Are Having Fewer Babies. They Told Us Why

Child Care Services Association