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Supporting The InfantToddler Workforce: A MultiPronged Approach Is Urgently Needed

July 11, 2018

The expansion of the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) funds provides an opportunity to invest in a multi-pronged strategy that supports the teachers of our youngest children. This blog post looks at the issues involved in supporting the infant-toddler workforce and offers seven recommendations for moving forward.

The new Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) funding represents an enormous opportunity to improve access to and quality of child care for infants, toddlers, their families, and the teachers and programs that work with them. With funding from the Pritzker Children’s Initiative, a project of the JB and MK Pritzker Family Foundation, the BUILD Initiative is organizing a series of webinars and blogs in partnership with ZERO TO THREE and the Center for Law and Social Policy for state policy leaders, decision makers and advocates.

By Lea J.E. Austin, Ed.D.
Co-Director Center for the Study of Child Care Employment
Institute for Research on Labor and Employment University of California, Berkeley

We know that quality early care and education (ECE), particularly in the first three years of a child’s life, can deliver lifelong positive impacts. For an infant or toddler who routinely spends a portion of her day in a formal child care setting, the knowledge, skills, and well-being of her teachers are inextricably linked to the quality of care and early learning provided. Yet it is for this age group of children that educators earn the lowest wages and need to meet the fewest requirements. These factors contribute to severe levels of economic insecurity and stress among members of this workforce, placing their own well-being is at risk and creating challenges to their efforts to support children’s development. Supporting policies and investments that ensure a skilled, stable infant and toddler teacher workforce will help to ensure high-quality early care and education for all children while also ensuring these educators work in circumstances that support their health and well-being. The current status of early educators, including those who work with infants and toddlers, requires policymakers and other stakeholders to respond with a sense of urgency. The recent expansion of the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) funds provides an opportunity to invest in a multi-pronged strategy that supports the teachers of our youngest children. Here’s a look at the issues, followed by seven recommendations.

Teachers Face a Wage Penalty for Working with Infants and Toddlers

Analysis of the 2012 National Survey of Early Care and Education, which represents the most recent comprehensive, national data on the ECE workforce, reveals shocking information. Among center-based infant and toddler teachers, 86 percent earned less than $15 an hour and more than one-half earned less than $10.10 an hour. At every level of education, infant and toddler teachers earn less than their counterparts who teach only preschool children: even among those with no college degree, infant and toddler teachers earn $1.05 less per hour.

These low wages and economic insecurity go hand in hand. Teacher surveys show that early educators have high levels of anxiety about providing basic needs for their families, including paying for food. We  know that this anxiety has a direct connection to their ability to be present in their workplace and engage with children in the most effective way on a daily basis.

In an Inequitable System, Teachers and Children Suffer

Any discussion of the infant-toddler workforce, and the children with whom its members work, must include this acknowledgement: the ECE system in this country is built upon a system of structural inequities based on gender, class, and race, contributing to poor outcomes for both children and their educators.

The ECE workforce as a whole is racially and ethnically diverse. Forty percent of the workforce are people of color, most of whom are women. However, our research at Center for the Study of Child Care Employment (CSCCE) has found that the diversity of the workforce doesn’t translate into equity across job roles and earnings. This is the case among those working with infants and toddlers. Fifty-two percent of center-based African American teachers work with infants and toddlers. As they are more likely to work with this age group of children than their peers in other racial and ethnic groups, they, in particular, experience the adverse consequences of the disparities in earnings for infant and toddler teachers. In other words, they are paid, on average, the lowest wages.

Infant-Toddler Teacher Qualifications:

Different States, Different Settings, Different Ages, Different Expectations

Qualifications for early educators across the 0-5 age span depend more on the setting and funding source than on the developmental and learning needs of the child. The most progress in aligning the complexity of skills and knowledge involved in teaching young children with qualifications for educators has occurred in public preschool and Head Start settings. Many of these programs for three- and four- year-old children require a teacher to hold an associate or bachelor’s degree with specialized training in early care and education.

For those working in  licensed child care, requirements in terms of education are typically considerably less. And within child care, the requirements for specialized education or training on infant and toddler development are varied and minimal. When they do exist, they are more likely to only apply to center-based teaching staff, not licensed family child care. These disparate and persistently low qualifications for teachers working with children from birth to age eight fail to reflect current scientific understanding of the complexity of early learning and development. They also undermine the value accorded to those who teach our youngest children. But the impact is most severe for those teaching infants and toddlers, who have the least support for education and specialized training for the work that they do.

It is important to note, however, that despite these low standards reflected in state statutes, many early educators have pursued education and training, often because there has been support available from public and private resources that have provided scholarships and other targeted supports to facilitate educational advancement.

Limited Focus on Infant-Toddler Preparation in Higher Education

Our studies of higher education preparation studies across 13 states suggest that, for those who do have access to higher education opportunities, limited opportunities exist to focus on infants and toddlers, as compared to working with preschoolers, for example. But we have seen in some states where there is greater inclusion of the infant-toddler workforce in state workforce policies, degree programs more reliably include infants and toddlers in the course content. New Hampshire higher education programs, for example, consistently have much more focus on infants and toddlers, on a par with preschool age programs. So policy at the state level really does make a difference. These findings suggest that higher education systems are responsive to state requirements and investments with regard to qualifications. However, if a state has inconsistent requirements, doesn’t demand that educators get infant-toddler education and training, and does not facilitate access for educators, then we see that, without any incentive, higher education institutions don’t provide it.

Work Environments Often are Not Supportive

We know that teachers of older children need paid professional development time, preparation and planning time, and opportunities to engage with co-teachers in planning and peer learning. But we rarely see supports for teachers of infants and toddlers to engage in any of these supports. Our research on the environments in which teachers are working, including those working with infants and toddlers, shows a relationship between supportive work environments and child outcomes. For example, teachers who assess their environments as more supportive, had higher CLASS interaction scores. This indicates that teachers who rate their work environment as more supportive are able to engage in more positive interactions, language development, and language exchange with children.

Insufficient Data Results in Uninformed Policy Decisions

Comprehensive and on-going data are needed to inform sound workforce policies and investments. But the ECE field lacks good data for every state. Even on a national basis, we rely on data sources that are starting to get out of date or that limit our ability to provide detail because we don’t have comprehensive data collection across the early childhood field. That lack of data allows many of these issues to persist; if the data is not in front of us, it’s challenging to know what’s going on in a state in terms of: what the infant-toddler workforce looks like; compensation, qualifications, and working environments; and how these vary by demographic characteristics, program setting, and funding, population of children served, and geography. These are all important, fundamental questions we should be able to answer to inform good policy, where our investments might make the biggest impact, or what our priority investment should be. Not having comprehensive data really hampers our ability to make the best informed policy and resource decisions because our knowledge is incomplete.

Moving Toward to a Long-Term Vision

There is inarguably a long road to travel from the status quo to a vision for early educators, including infant and toddler teachers, that aligns with the science and professional consensus of a well prepared, supported, and compensated workforce. But rather than be stymied by the distance to be traveled, policy makers and other stakeholders have multiple opportunities to work toward reforms.


1.     Workforce reforms require more than a single-ingredient strategy. Ensure approaches are multi-pronged, in recognition that there is no single-ingredient solution. Strengthening qualifications alone, for example, is insufficient without providing financial and structural supports for the workforce to meet new qualifications.

2.     Develop a state-specific workforce strategy that includes compensation. Develop a state-specific strategy for the infant-toddler workforce, but in the context of the ECE workforce and services as a whole. This strategy should include increased compensation for infant-toddler teachers. Increasing subsidy as a method of increasing compensation may work as a strategy – if it’s intentional. States can enact policies to ensure that wages are improved by designating rate increases for the workforce, for example. But there also are other methods to explore to increase compensation. Care should be taken to have a long-term strategy that meaningfully lifts the infant and toddler workforce into a meaningfully higher compensation structure.

3.     Introduce state-level infant toddler specializations into qualifications. As states set their qualifications, they should examine how they can create specializations. Look to states such as New Hampshire and organizations such as ZERO TO THREE and Council for Professional Recognition for their recommendations that address entry through experienced educators, as well. There are national competencies and standards that have been established that are based on evidence, science, and best practices and there are some states that have worked to implement those.

4.     Remove cost for improved infant and toddler credentials and degrees from the workforce. Ensure that early educators who are working with children 0-3 have an opportunity to engage in preparation and training as they need it but that they do not have to encumber those expenses on their own. There are a host of documented strategies, such as cohort models and bringing training to the community, that are important to make available to this workforce – one that we know is composed of non-traditional students, including folks who would be going back to engage in some type of education/training who maybe haven’t been in school for a long time or need support with accessing technology. Make scholarships available to the educators themselves so there’s no cost for them. CCDBG quality funds can be utilized in concert with other state resources to support these efforts.

5.     Create new ways for infant and toddler teachers to apply learning. After trainings, teachers often return to work environments in which they have no opportunity, time, or ability to exchange with their co-teachers and others about how they’ll implement what they’ve learned. Instead of providing stipends for these types of trainings, states should use some of their CCDBG quality dollars to experiment with different types of stipends and supports. For example, bring professional development to a site, as some communities in California have done with their AB-212 dollars for their 0-5 workforce. The entire staff is engaged in this site-based professional development opportunity, it is paid for, and it is accomplished during work hours.

6.     Be innovative in developing opportunities to create health care and professional supports for teachers. Explore strategies to create pools to provide health benefits and services. Work with programs directly to support staffing models, e.g., substitutes and floaters, that allow teaching staff to have paid planning and professional development opportunities. It IS difficult for small, independent programs to provide these supports. States should strategize ways to pay for these supports – regionally, if a large state, or statewide, if a smaller state.

7.    Track and use workforce data. One of the best investments that states can make with their CCDBG dollars is to develop and strengthen existing workforce data. None of the above strategies can be fully developed without good data to identify the scope of challenges and needs, and how these vary across the workforce and within a state. The workforce should also be tracked over time to assess how well policy and investments are working and for whom. States should enact policies requiring participation in state workforce data systems by all members of the ECE workforce employed in licensed child care settings and in settings receiving public subsidies. CCDBG funds can be combined with other state and local funding sources to support workforce data collection, management, and analysis of the data, and can be prioritized in state CCDBG plans.

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