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Chances are that in the past year, you, or someone you employ, live near, or are related to has had a child care crisis and had to do some major shifting in routines as a result of COVID-19. This past year has shown the world what those in the early childhood field have known for years- child care providers are the essential workforce behind the workforce and are vitally important for our day-to-day functions.

Unfortunately, the child care industry is in crisis. Centers already operating on incredibly small margins were crippled by COVID-19 due to lost parent fees for those who no longer needed care and issues directly related to the workforce. Despite being a critically important field, child care teachers are being paid poverty-level wages with few benefits if any at all. According to the Workforce Study by the Child Care Services Association in 2019, starting child care teachers in Henderson County made an average of $11.00 per hour with a highest average salary of $15.00 per hour and only 36% of centers provided fully or partially paid health insurance. Many teachers could leave the field and make more money working at any of the local fast-food restaurants. We say we value those working with our tiniest citizens during the most impactful times of their lives and pay them a salary that says otherwise.

Teachers working in child care centers are not babysitters. They are educators responsible for creating high-quality learning experiences for children ages birth to five. Many times, they are keeping little ones safe and cared for up to nine hours a day. Research shows that 90% of a child’s brain’s physical volume develops as early as five years old making these educators responsible for building brains during the mort important time in a child’s life.

Child care centers in the state of NC are rated on a five-star scale much like a hotel, with a five star center having the highest standards. This rating scale is determined by a variety of criteria that include the educational level of teachers. The NC Senate recently passed SB 570 which makes it so no licensed child care center due for a Star Rating Assessment, which happens once every 3 years, will lose their rating based on staff qualifications for at least 6 months after the State of Emergency. This component of the legislation is a great acknowledgement of the support needed for the child care industry so they can rebuild and move toward post-pandemic recovery. Sections 2 and 3 of SB 570 however, lower the educational requirements for early childhood professionals drastically and without an expiration date. The ramifications of these sections could mean that children could be in a 5 Star center with teachers who have not had a single class in health and safety, child development or curriculum and instruction.

More than one million new neural connections are formed every second in the first few years of life.

Children & Family Resource Center has a multi-pronged solution that addresses the teacher shortage without lowering the standards for the early childhood classrooms. Our Early Workforce Development program provides participants the opportunity to be a substitute teacher in a classroom and earn a living wage while learning real-time hands-on experience working in a child care center. In many cases, our substitutes are hired as soon as they are eligible because of their training and their willingness to work proving that in Henderson County, it is possible to address the workforce shortage without having to lowering educational qualifications.  Workforce Development programs like ours address the underlying problems in classrooms and keep quality standards in place so when these children begin kindergarten, they are ready to learn and be successful in the larger school system. The Children & Family Resource Center’s Early Workforce Development program aims to educate and empower program participants, connecting them with employment opportunities in our community, while also continuing to develop the quality of child care providers in Henderson County.

This program not only increases participant’s self-sufficiency but adds additional qualified educators to the early childhood workforce. CFRC’s Early Childhood Workforce Development program develops a robust pipeline of early childhood teachers that support the workforce behind the workforce and contribute the development of our county’s future nurses, teachers, and public servants.

There are other avenues of support for child care providers that honor early childhood teachers as a profession and validate the mission critical work that takes place in child care centers. Programs that incentivize higher education (TEACH Scholarships) and higher wages (WAGE$ program) increase staff retention and keep quality standards in place that protect children.

If you know someone works in the early childhood field, reach out to them, and check in on them. Many of our county’s centers never shut down and maintained a staff of teachers who are not there for the salary or the nonexistent benefits but show up every day because they love children and have a passion for what they do. It is time to celebrate and honor the essential child care heroes in our community.