By Allison Miller,
CCSA Compensation Initiatives Team
When Davina Woods was asked how she became interested in early childhood, she said, “I entered the profession as an undercover helicopter mom! I had just placed my son in child care and I couldn’t stand not being there and seeing what and how he was doing.”
Her child’s center hired her as a part-time school-age group leader before she eventually found her calling with young children and their teachers.
She started with no education and now she is in the master’s program at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro with the assistance of a T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood® scholarship. After 25 years in the field, she loves her position as director of Excel Christian Academy, a five-star child care center in Alamance County, where she has been for 13 years.
“It has been a privilege to work in every single aspect of
child care,” Davina said. “In every classroom, with every age group, in every position.
I have fulfilled every duty from cook to van driver and it gives me perspective
and appreciation. I love this viewpoint. I get the luxury of working with
children, families and teachers.”
Davina’s center prioritizes its teachers by providing a
livable wage as well as other key benefits, which she knows most teachers are
unable to access in this field. “And then they get WAGE$ and T.E.A.C.H. on top
of that,” she said.
The Child Care WAGE$® (WAGE$) Program provides education-based salary supplements to low-paid teachers, directors and family child care providers working with children between the ages of birth to five. The program is designed to provide preschool children more stable relationships with better-educated teachers by rewarding teacher education and continuity of care.
The T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood® Scholarship (T.E.A.C.H.) Program addresses under-education, poor compensation and high turnover within the early childhood workforce by providing educational scholarships to early care professionals and those who perform specialized functions in the early care system.
“WAGE$ and T.E.A.C.H. are just part of who we are, part of
the center’s make-up,” Davina said. “It is essential, imperative, to have an
educated staff, especially here in the 21st century where children
are not changing but the modes and methods of educating children are constantly
evolving. Teachers must know best practices and know how to utilize the latest
research and incorporate that into classrooms for the best outcomes for
According to Davina, “WAGE$ is essential because it helps to boost teacher morale within the program. WAGE$ both encourages and motivates staff to increase their education. Additionally, WAGE$ provides a sense of healthy competition among team members as they see who can achieve the next level first.”
She said, “My teachers talk about the courses they take and they drive each other.” Three of her staff will graduate in December with their associate degree in early childhood education and they remind Davina of why she does what she does. “If I take great care of my team, they will take great care of the children.”
Thank you, Davina, for your support of the workforce and the Child Care WAGE$® Program.
Learn more about the Child Care WAGE$® Program here.
Learn more about the T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood® Scholarship (T.E.A.C.H.) Program here.
If any issue warrants
public attention, public discussion and rethinking as to the best way to ensure
families with young children have access to child care and pre-kindergarten, it
is our nation’s current approach to the safety and healthy development of young
children. It’s not a system as much as a patchwork quilt stitched together over
decades. The federal government allocates funds to states through individual
programs or funding streams (i.e., block grants), each with different rules,
administered by different state agencies, and too often resulting in siloed
approaches with little to no coordination or collaboration among state agencies,
departments, divisions or communities.
In December 2019,
Congress enacted the FY2020 Labor, Health and Human Services and Education
Appropriations measure, which included the following funding levels for early
care and education programs:
In addition to the funding above, in FY2019, the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture allocated $3.7 billion to states to support healthy meals and snacks for low-income children in child care centers and family child care homes  and the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services allocated the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) block grant to states, of which states chose to use $3.8 billion for child care and $2.6 billion for state pre-K.  The number of children served by TANF funds for child care or pre-K is unknown because the federal government only requires aggregate spending to be reported, not how many children are served, the setting children are in (homes or centers, licensed or unlicensed) or the average price paid per child. In all, that’s more than $35 billion through various federal funds for early care and education programs.
Child care is the largest early childhood program with $12.5 billion in funding and yet only about 17 percent of eligible children (based on state standards) receive a subsidy.  Many states have a waiting list for assistance, including North Carolina with a waiting list of more than 40,000 children. Families have a difficult time finding care, affording care, and then many parents express concern about the quality of care. Numerous national reports have been released about child care deserts, communities where the need for child care for parents of children under age 6 pales in comparison to the licensed supply of child care.  The U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services released a report in October 2019 that found the supply of home-based care has declined by more than 97,000 providers since 2005. 
Why? Child care is a business. Child care centers tend to operate in areas where the population is dense enough with sufficient numbers of private-pay families who can afford weekly parent fees. The operating budget for child care centers largely comprises parent fees and therefore staff is hired at the lowest wages possible to hold costs down. In a good economy with low unemployment, like we have today, turnover is high because staff often can find better-paying jobs in fast food, retail sales or other jobs that require less training or education. Turnover also costs businesses because of the marketing, interviewing, hiring and training required for new staff.
For home-based providers, the hours are long and the pay is low. According to a 2019 economic impact report by the Committee for Economic Development,  the average annual income of home-based providers is approximately $15,000 per year,  18% higher than in North Carolina, where the average income of home-based providers is $12,300.  The decline in home-based providers (who often serve infants and toddlers) is a hardship for parents, particularly those in rural communities where the economics of operating a center don’t work. Home-based care is often less expensive and providers may be more willing to stay open during nontraditional hours for those parents who work shift work or have long commutes to their job. Yet, again, wages drive interest in opening a home-based program (or closing one) because other jobs in the community may pay more with fewer hours and less stress.
The reality is that mothers are working today. Nationally, approximately 72 percent of mothers with children under age 6 are working outside of the home,  65.4 percent of mothers with children age 2 are working  and, 57.8 percent of mothers with children under age 1 are working.  Many of these mothers need child care, but federal subsidies reach only one out of every six eligible children. Therefore, most families are forced to afford whatever they can find. However, in too many communities, the supply is not available, let alone affordable.
There is no doubt that if our nation’s early care and education system were designed today, it would look much different. If we can’t think out of the box about a new bold system to better meet the needs of families with young children, we will be stuck with incremental, minor band-aids that ignore the real problem: the system is under-financed and poorly designed. Parents can’t afford quality child care, but we know from the research that high-quality child care really matters to the healthy development of children, particularly in the earliest years as a child’s brain is developing the fastest, setting the architecture for all future social, emotional, physical and cognitive skills. 
Two decades ago, child care was a work support. Today, we know that it is a two-generation strategy. High-quality child care helps parents work and helps support the healthy development of children. In fact, parents who can’t access child care reduce their hours or drop out of the workforce. About 94 percent of those who involuntarily work part-time are mothers who cite child care problems as their reason for working part-time. 
In 2018, the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) released “Transforming the Financing of Early Care and Education,” which reviewed the multiple funding streams for early care and education and made a number of recommendations. The NAS Committee, made up of early childhood experts and finance experts, recommended investing in early care and education at a percentage of U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) aligned with the average of other member nations of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). The report recommended increasing funds in four phases, from at least $5 billion in phase one to $53 billion in phase four. 
However, it is not just
about the money. It is also about program design and meeting the needs of
families in urban and rural areas and in an array of settings that best meet
the needs of the family and each individual child with an early education workforce
that is trained and paid appropriately for the important work they do.
Rethinking is always a
bit more challenging than staying in the box with patchwork fixes. The current
system isn’t working for low-income children whose families need a subsidy or
the private market where working parents need access to affordable high-quality
child care and early education programs. It is time for a discussion about a
For Latisha Edwards, teaching is “being a creator. Learning through play is the best part, because not only are the children using their imagination, but I’m using my imagination as well, and that’s just always fun.”
Latisha works as an assistant teacher at First Presbyterian Day School in Durham, North Carolina, while also attending classes at Vance-Granville Community College for her associate’s degree in early childhood education. “After that, I plan on attending UNC-Chapel Hill for my bachelor’s degree,” she said.
“Honestly, it was not [always my plan to work in early childhood education,]” Latisha said. “My mom owned a child care center my entire life and I was off doing retail. Once I had my son, I started working part-time with the center and I just kind of grew to love it, and that was almost nine years ago.”
Latisha started her education in 2014 but then had her last child, “so I stopped and got out of it. I was still working in the field, but I left [my education] alone. So, in the fall of ’19, I re-enrolled…Hopefully, I will finish in December, but I’ll walk with the May class.”
First Presbyterian has a looping program for infant-toddlers and twos. “Right now, I’m with the two-year-old [classroom], but in June, when we do our transition, I will be transitioning back to the infants, and we start all the way over until we get to two and then we do it all again,” Latisha said.
The most rewarding part of teaching for Latisha “is knowing that you are actually building a child’s self-esteem because teaching is not always a-b-c’s, 1-2-3’s. It’s about building confidence in children and having them just grow up and be great adults…I love what I do, honestly.”
By Marsha Basloe, President, Child Care Services Association
During a child’s earliest years, brain development occurs that sets the architecture for all future learning (e.g., the wiring needed for healthy child development across social, emotional, physical, and cognitive areas). This is what makes high-quality child care for infants and toddlers so important.
At the same time, infant and toddler care is the hardest to find. The supply of infant and toddler care pales in comparison to the needs of working parents. A report by the Center for American Progress found that 44 percent of families in North Carolina live in a child care desert where the demand for child care by working families far exceeds the supply.
Even when families can find it, too many struggle with the cost, particularly for infants and toddlers. Throughout North Carolina, the average annual price of child care for an infant in a child care center is $9,254. The average annual price of child care for an infant in a family child care home is $7,412.
perspective, for a single mother earning minimum wage ($7.25 per hour) working
full-time, she would earn $15,080 per year. The cost of center-based infant
care would be 61.4 percent of her income. The cost of infant care in a family
child care home would be 49.2 percent of her income. If she earns twice the
minimumwage ($14.50 per hour), about $30,160 per year – the cost of
child care in a center would be 30.7 percent of her income. The cost of infant
care in a family child care home would be 24.6 percent of her income. If she earnsthree times the minimum wage ($21.75 per hour), her annual income would
be about $45,240 per year. Center-based infant care would cost 20.5 percent of
her income; infant care in a family child care home would cost 16.4 percent of
To help families with the cost of child care, the North Carolina Division of Child Development and Early Education (DCDEE) offers qualifying families a subsidy. The state pays most of the cost and families have a 10 percent co-pay. Unfortunately, not all families who qualify can receive assistance and more than 30,000 eligible children throughout the state are on a waiting list for child care financial help. It is important to note that the waiting list is only a snapshot in time because some families don’t join the list when they hear about the length of it. So, the waiting list reflects only those who qualify for help and who also add their names to the waiting list in case more funding becomes available to support additional families.
For families with infants
and toddlers, the supply and cost are both struggles. It’s unrealistic to think
that families can access the licensed market if they have to pay a huge
percentage of their income to cover the cost. Why is that a concern to all
North Carolina taxpayers? There are several reasons.
Quality of child care and long-term taxpayer bills. When parents can’t afford the licensed market, if they must stay in the workforce to make ends meet, then they will try to make do with a variety of unlicensed care options. Given the brain development that is underway during a child’s earliest years, it is critical that a child be in a setting that promotes his or her healthy development. That’s one of the reasons for the rated child care license in North Carolina and one of the reasons the NC General Assembly restricted the receipt of child care subsidies to programs with at least a 3-star rating. Supporting healthy child development is important, particularly for infants and toddlers when the brain is developing the fastest. Taxpayers will pay more in the long-term when a child enters kindergarten without the skills to succeed through additional costs for remediation, for special education, and for those children who must repeat a grade (e.g., repeating a grade is not “free”).
Labor force participation. Without affordable child care, parents reduce their hours or opt-out of the workforce. Ninety-four percent of workers involuntarily working part-time due to child care problems are women. In North Carolina, 457,706 children under age 6 have working parents. If one-third to one-half of these children under 6 are infants and toddlers, that’s 151,043 to 228,853 children who may need some type of child care while their parents work.
Employers & Employees. Employers depend on working parents. And, working parents with young children depend on some type of child care.
As the General Assembly meets to
discuss budget priorities, child care assistance should be at the top of the
list. Given the extraordinary cost of child care for infants and toddlers, the
General Assembly may want to consider reviewing other models to support access
to high-quality infant and toddler care.
In June 2018, the District of Columbia City Council unanimously passed the Birth to Three for All DC Act. The legislation charts the path for a comprehensive system of supports for children’s healthy growth and development with a specific focus on services for families with infants and toddlers. The Act is broad — investing in home visiting and child developmental screening, however, with regard to child care for infants and toddlers, the Act expands child care subsidy eligibility for infants and toddlers to all families by 2027, caps the percentage of annual income a family would pay toward child care expenses at 10 percent of gross income by 2028, and phases in competitive compensation for early educators. The District is now in its second year of implementation with $16 million in funding for FY2020. City Council members say it’s a high priority to increase funding as part of the 2021 budget, and work on that front is underway.
There are certainly differences
in passing legislation that supports a city (even a large city like Washington,
D.C.) compared to a state. However, the concept is innovative. It recognizes
that the cost of infant and toddler care is so high that all families may
struggle with the cost. It recognizes that access to high-quality infant and
toddler care is important to a child’s healthy development. And, it recognizes
that a compensation strategy for the child care workforce is needed to support
It is time to rethink the state’s
approach to child care subsidy, and especially how families with infants and
toddlers are supported in accessing high-quality child care. In the new year,
let’s give thanks for what we have and think through policies that can best
support our children in the future.
by Jennifer Gioia, CCSA Communications Manager, and Colleen Burns, CCSA Summer
2019 Communications Intern, UNC-Chapel Hill
Lynette Mitchell has been the director and owner of Harvest Learning Center in Chapel Hill, NC for 15 years. She is in her first year as a Shape NC site. In the video above, Lynette talks about how she’s involved the parents of her center with Shape NC.
Shape NC is a program implemented by CCSA in
partnership with Smart Start that aims to increase the number of children
starting kindergarten at a healthy weight. The program promotes healthy eating
and active play for children from birth-5 years old by working with child care
programs to instill healthy behaviors early on, creating a solid foundation for
a healthy life.
CCSA’s Communications Manager, Jennifer Gioia,
sat down with Lynette to find out how her experience has been with Shape NC
Jennifer: How did your center hear about Shape NC?
Lynette: Swanda [Shape NC
Technical Assistant] called me into the office one day and said, ‘Listen, we
have a great program that we think your center might enjoy and qualify for.’
Once she described how it worked, I thought, ‘Oh my goodness, most definitely
sign us up. We want to be a part of that.’ We feel like we can grow and become
a better center through this program.
Jennifer: So, it was personal face-to-face outreach?
Lynette: Definitely. I didn’t
know about the other sites. Now that I’ve been in the program, I look for them.
I actually was Googling the other day and saw there were several Shape NC
programs across the state that have been highlighted in their local newspapers.
At first, I thought Shape NC was great just on the criteria alone, but now I
see it’s truly a significant program and the community recognizes it statewide
for what it provides.
Jennifer: What resources has Shape NC provided your
center so far?
Lynette: Oh, so much. First
of all, just the educational workshops alone have been invigorating and
exciting. I’ve even taken my staff to a couple of the workshops, and that’s
just been invaluable. You know you can give someone a fish to eat for a day,
but you teach them how to fish and it’s for life. By giving us that knowledge,
we can go on and do a lot of things beyond that. Then you start getting into
the balls and hoops and recipes that they send out. I’m in the first year, but
I’ve already gotten so much.
haven’t even gotten to the playground yet. My husband and I went to NC State
where we sat down directly with the experts to design the playground. They’re
at our disposal, and have come up with things I would only dream about. You
think you could open up Home and Garden magazine and see these designs in
there. Like we can do that here? That was just mind blowing. Then Shape NC put
us on a bus to Asheboro where we saw a center that’s doing exactly what I am at
Jennifer: Why did your center want to become a Shape NC
Lynette: Let’s just put it
out there, it’s expensive, and I’m a small business owner. So, when Shape NC
told me if I’m willing to make these positive changes in my center, they’ll
contribute significantly to enhancing my playground space, it was just very
attractive. We have a beautiful natural environment at our center with big
trees and shade. When I saw some of the designs that NC State could do for us
with Shape NC, it fit perfectly into our philosophy and topography. It was a
…It was about creating beautiful, relaxing
spaces that not only enhance you physically, but mentally and spiritually. And
we’re a Christian-based center, so when I saw some of the spaces where people
can go and be quiet and calm down, but also other places to go and run around,
it’s about all of that when you go outside.
Jennifer: What is the importance of kids consistently getting that nutritional value from child care centers?
Lynette: Most of my clientele
is middle to upper-middle [income], and a lot of times you think food programs
are only for the less fortunate. But I will tell you that these families, who
are working moms and dads running here and there, have the resources but just
not the time to provide the types of meals that they would like to. What we
want to do here is give parents peace of mind that their child’s breakfast,
lunch and snack are very nutritious. They may do fast food for dinner, but
that’s okay because they had salmon, wild rice, broccoli and quinoa at school
today. I think that’s significant because we’re providing them food for the
greater portion of the day.
Jennifer: What impact have you seen Shape NC have on
your teachers, the children and on the children’s parents?
Lynette: I just can’t say
enough. I mean I feel so fortunate. Not many centers get picked each year. Just
the commitment of this entire team, Swanda and her group cannot be more
helpful. Another great thing is the networking. I love being in contact with
other sites that have already done it. They have been so helpful and so
inspiring. I mean, I forgot which center we went to, but the director kept
asking, ‘Is there anything else we can tell you?’ My phone is full of photos,
and then one site, I went beyond asking about the playground because I liked
the classroom, too.
I love the way the Asheboro center wanted to
help. She just kept it real director to director, because when you put all these
beautiful things on the playground, you need to know how to maintain them. She
told me, ‘I can tell when I get a new teacher who does not understand how we
play. She’ll be the first one to toss something over a fence and say the
children didn’t know how to play with it.’ She told me you have to continue the
education of the staff, so the children know how to enjoy the space.
You can plant all these wonderful herbs, and
children will romp through them and rip them apart, not understanding that this
is part of the environment and you care for it. This is how we work and play in
it for it to be a beautiful place for us. So, I was really glad for that good
note of how to maintain from another director.