Child care providers and employees have kept our economy going during a time when the government, businesses and families have been focused on Covid-19 “rescue.” Now, as we move to “recovery,” policymakers, influencers, business leaders and philanthropists have all recognized the importance of child care — both for the short- and long-term prosperity of our economy.
Access to quality child care is a critical step to provide every child a strong start in life, and parents are currently struggling to do so even now. With offices reopening, parents and families are clamoring to get their children back into child care and preschool. Sixty percent of parents report that they will need to change their child care situation in the next year. But parents should now expect longer waitlists and higher tuition due to staffing shortages.
Thankfully, the federal government has made major investments in child care through prior Covid relief packages such as the American Rescue Plan and the American Families Plan. Now as we look at the draft budget resolution and see yet another welcome investment to increase access, we need to look at the bigger picture and what our child care system needs, beyond just money to increase access. With the exodus of child care professionals and educators throughout the field, it is unclear who will fill these essential roles should access increase.
To accomplish the moonshot goal of providing every family access to quality child care, we — the policymakers, business leaders and community members who all rely on child care — need to seriously consider how we support the field and the providers and educators who make it run every day. We need to fix the industry as a whole and professionalize the field, specifically by addressing pay and professional development.
A living wage for child care professionals
The national median hourly pay for child care workers was $11.65 per hour, resulting in many employees living below the current federal poverty level of $26,200 for a family of four. In some of the country’s largest cities, many with some of the highest needs for early care, child care workers’ dismal pay forces them out of the workforce as the cost of living and housing rates continue to rise. In California, for example, we see a slightly higher median salary of $13.43 per hour, but with significantly higher housing costs and living expenses, child care employees are still struggling, and the child care industry remains short nearly 127,000 workers.
- Have more job stability and security.
- Improve continuity and quality of care for children, which has wide-ranging benefits. High-quality child care has positive impacts on children’s cognitive and social development and can improve long-term health outcomes.
- Take or continue taking courses to expand their knowledge and skills, including social and emotional learning and emotional competence.
Qualifications and regular professional development grounded in emotional competence
It takes a specific set of skills and knowledge to be able to understand young children’s needs, emotions and development. Professionals deserve to be well-supported, trained and compensated for this expertise. When we treat all educators and staff who support young children as the essential professionals they are, we attract high-quality talent to the industry and incentivize them to stay longer-term.
Having high qualifications — such as teacher preparation and certification standards beyond a high school diploma, which is a common requirement among most states for child care employees — and continuing education opportunities for educators who support young children, starting at birth, helps professionalize the field of early childhood education.
Training and professional development for educators who support young children, starting at birth, must be grounded in emotional competence. As we have seen in our own research, when early childhood educators are trained to successfully teach children essential skills based in emotional intelligence and self-regulation, we see children who are more confident, more empathetic, who are better able to control their emotions and behavior, and who succeed academically.
The key to increasing access to quality child care is professionalizing the field, and we do this by providing child care staff a livable wage and professional development grounded in emotional competence. When we do this, not only are we creating a child care system that will support early childhood educators and professionals for the long term, but we are increasing equity by ensuring that every family can access a quality early childhood education experience.
Donna Housman, Ed.D., is the founder and CEO of Housman Institute, which conducts research on emotional intelligence in young children and develops high-quality programs to train early childhood educators.
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