The COVID-19 pandemic has devastated an already struggling early care and education field. Child care programs have had to close, and those that have remained open have had to adapt to new challenges. Not only have programs struggled financially, but early childhood providers have, too.
Some providers have found relief in the form of CCSA’s Child Care WAGE$® Program. WAGE$, established in 1994, provides education-based salary supplements to underpaid teachers, directors and family child care providers working with children ages birth to 5. The supplements are based on the individual’s education level, and the more education they have the higher the supplement they can receive.
One center that has been affected by the pandemic and also has teachers enrolled in the WAGE$ program is Smiling Faces Child Care Center in Williamston, N.C. Center Director Bernadette Rodgers spoke on many of the challenges the center is facing. She said the center is struggling, and that people look at the teachers as important essential workers, but they aren’t getting enough help or additional resources to do their jobs.
Bernadette also said it’s been hard finding the money to pay the staff. In fact, they had to go two weeks without pay in December. When asked about the center’s financial struggles, Bernadette said she appreciates everything WAGE$ has done to help, but she added that more people need to lobby for better pay and benefits for early child care providers.
Mozella Reddick, a teacher and WAGE$ participant at Smiling Faces Child Care Center, is also appreciative of the WAGE$ supplements. Mozella said, “Without WAGE$, my bills couldn’t get paid. I depend on that money to pay bills.”
Mozella joined WAGE$ in 1995, a few years after her daughter was born. The birth of her daughter is also what inspired her to get into the child care field.
“I needed to get my education,” said Mozella. “When you’re working in child care you need to learn about different things like the stages and ages of children and what they go through and how to be able to work with them.”
In addition to teaching a class of 4-and 5-year-olds, Mozella is also the center’s assistant director. Mozella said the staff is “taking chances every day,” and that it’s hard on the kids because “one minute they’re in school and the next minute [they’re not] because someone got in contact with somebody who has COVID.”
Despite the hardships of COVID-19, Mozella said, “working at Smiling Faces has been a really good experience,” and she praised Bernadette for all the hard work she’s been doing to keep the center open. So, while the WAGE$ program has helped many educators like Mozella in a time of need, there’s a lot more that could be done for them. If educators continue to receive low wages, there won’t be any left, pandemic or not.
Professional compensation and benefits are needed to recruit and retain a high-quality early childhood workforce. Join the fight for Worthy Wages as we lead up to Worthy Wages Day this May 1 to help raise awareness and tell policymakers that early educators deserve worthy wages for the worthy work they do.