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Maria Milla

 “I had to work when I was 15 years old,” said WAGE$ participant Maria Milla. “My country, Honduras, is very difficult, very poor. I had to move to a bigger city and live with relatives to be able to study. I wanted to be a teacher, but that required day classes. I had to work during the day, so I studied something else, but my dream was always to be a teacher. When I played school as I child, I was always the teacher!” Maria’s dream came true when she moved to the United States. 

Maria answered an advertisement for a child care center substitute and started learning about children, but she quickly realized how much more she needed and wanted to know. She kept working, took English (ESL) classes and then began her early childhood coursework. Maria started on the Child Care WAGE$® Program with the NC Early Childhood Credential (four semester hours) and now has her Birth-Kindergarten Bachelor’s Degree. She has moved up the WAGE$ scale many times, earning higher awards, and has remained at her current 5-star program since 2005. She is now only two classes away from earning her Birth to Kindergarten license. 

Maria knows how much her education and consistency mean for the children and families she serves. 

“I feel like the more education we have, the better we can do,” she said. “We learn about development and how we can help children grow and learn.” 

The T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood® Program helped her pay for classes; she says she couldn’t have done it otherwise. She’s proud of earning her degree, and she says WAGE$ helped her attain that goal. 

“It helped with the financial component of taking classes. WAGE$ is a good motivator. I’m very thankful for all that WAGE$ and my partnership do with this incentive. I love my job and I’m happy, but I don’t make much money and this incentive helps a lot of us stay in our jobs. WAGE$ helps everybody. It helps children have the same teachers. Children feel safe, secure and happier. It helps parents feel more trust. They can leave their child with someone who has been there a long time rather than someone who comes and goes. It helps families because we don’t have to charge them more than they can pay. It helps the teachers a lot.” 

Maria joked that despite her years of education in the United States, her English continues to improve with the help of the children in her class. 

“I tell them to let me know if I say something wrong. They do! They correct me!” Laughing, Maria said, “Teaching is my passion. I want to stay in the classroom.” 

By Marsha Basloe, President, Child Care Services Association

Working Parents Need Access to Quality Child Care – More Support Needed for Child Care Workforce

Currently, throughout North Carolina, nearly half a million (457,706) children under age six live in a family where all parents in the household are working.[1] Many of these children are in some type of child care setting every week so that their parents can obtain and retain jobs that sustain and grow our state’s economy. 

A study by the Committee for Economic Development (CED) shows that child care as an industry has an economic impact in North Carolina of $3.15 billion annually ($1.47 billion in direct revenue and $1.67 billion in spillover in other industries throughout our counties and cities).[2] Child care programs have an overall job impact throughout the state of 64,852, which includes 47,282 individuals who are employed within child care centers or who operate a home-based business plus another 17,570 in spillover jobs – created through the activity of those operating child care programs.[3] The economic impact of child care matters because it helps drive local economies. When parents can access child care, they are more likely to enter the workforce and stay employed. 

The Child Care Workforce: Early Brain Builders

Source: Committee for Economic Development, 2019

What we know is that child care is not only a work support for parents but also an early learning setting for young children. Research shows that a child’s earliest years are when the brain is developing the fastest – forming a foundation for all future social, emotional, physical and cognitive development. During this time, more than 1 million new neural connections are formed every second.[4] This is important to understand because both parents and child care providers play an important role in supporting healthy child development – helping to shape the brain’s foundation for all future learning (e.g., school readiness and school success).

Because both genes and experiences impact a child’s brain development,[5] the child care workforce plays a critical role in supporting early learning. In essence, they are brain builders – working with children to support a strong foundation on which later learning depends – just like the foundation for a house, all floors above the basement depend on the construction or sturdiness of the basement.

The Workforce that Supports All Other Workforces

Despite the important role that child care educators play in supporting our next generation (as well as supporting the ability of parents to work), the current economic model for child care programs falls short of supporting child care workers in a way that recognizes their role in child development. How so? The operating budget for child care programs is based on parent fees and state subsidies paid for low-income children.

Because the current cost of child care in North Carolina is so high (e.g., $9,254 annually for center-based infant care),[6] program directors try to keep costs down because they know parents can’t pay more. However, what this translates to is low wages for the child care field. In today’s economy, where the fast-food industry and retail sales pay higher hourly wages and often offer benefits, the competition for the workforce to enter the early childhood field is steep. In fact, the early childhood field is experiencing a workforce crisis.

In North Carolina, the median wage earned for child care teachers is about $10.97 per hour ($22,818 per year if full time) and assistant teachers earn $9.97 per hour.[7] These wages represent a modest 0.7% increase in buying power despite much larger gains in education. The study also found that statewide, 39% of teachers and teacher assistants had needed at least one type of public assistance (e.g., TANF, Medicaid, SNAP/food stamps, etc.) in the past three years.

Child Care Services Association (CCSA) is conducting a county-level early childhood workforce study for the Division of Child Development and Early Education (DCDEE) that will be completed in August 2020. Once completed, North Carolina will have additional information.

Source: Committee for Economic Development, 2019

For context, many child care educators are supporting their own families. With these wages, they fall well short of the level that qualifies them for public food assistance benefits (e.g., a family of three with income under $27,000 per year qualifies for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program – SNAP).[8] It’s not hard to understand that workers in low wage jobs face stresses in making ends meet, in supporting their own families and in parking their stress outside the classroom door when working with young children. 

In North Carolina, the state funds two programs administered by CCSA to support the early childhood workforce:

  • Child Care WAGE$® Program, which provides education-based salary supplements to low paid teachers, directors and family child care educators working with children ages birth to five. The program is designed to increase retention, education and compensation. The Child Care WAGE$® Program is a funding collaboration between local Smart Start partnerships (55 partnerships) and the Division of Child Development and Early Education (DCDEE).[9] Salary supplements are earned – tied to the recipient’s level of education, with teachers and family child care providers awarded on a different scale than directors.

These strategies are invaluable to better support the child care workforce for the important work that they do.  It raises salaries sometimes almost a dollar an hour. You can see the impact of these programs on our website. This is an investment in the workforce that supports all other workforces, AND also an investment that results in better outcomes for our children (e.g., brain-building that leads to school readiness). We hope these programs will grow in the years ahead to support our early childhood educators who care for our young children and families.

As we approach Thanksgiving, I am thankful for the work of our early educators. It is time for our communities to think about compensation for the early childhood workforce in a manner that reflects their contribution to our state’s prosperity.


[1] U.S. Census Bureau, Table B23008, Age of Own Children Under 18 Years in Families and Subfamilies by Living Arrangements by Employment Status of Parents, 2018 American Community Survey, 1 Year Estimates. https://data.census.gov/cedsci/table?q=b23008&hidePreview=true&table=B23008&tid=ACSDT1Y2018.B23008&lastDisplayedRow=15&g=0400000US37

[2] Child Care in State Economies: 2019 Update, Committee for Economic Development, 2019. https://www.ced.org/childcareimpact

[3] Ibid.

[4] Harvard University Center on the Developing Child, Brain Architecture. https://developingchild.harvard.edu/science/key-concepts/brain-architecture/

[5] Ibid.

[6] The U.S. and the High Price of Child Care: An Examination of a Broken System, Child Care Aware of America, 2019. https://usa.childcareaware.org/advocacy-public-policy/resources/priceofcare/

[7] Child Care Services Association, Working in Early Care and Education in North Carolina, 2015,  https://www.childcareservices.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/2015-Workforce-Report-FNL.pdf        

[8] U.S. Department of Agriculture, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, eligibility 2019. https://www.fns.usda.gov/snap/recipient/eligibility

[9] WAGE$ North Carolina, Child Care Services Association.  https://www.childcareservices.org/wages-nc/

[10] AWARD$ North Carolina, Child Care Services Association. https://www.childcareservices.org/awards/

Naukisha Wray-Darity

“I don’t always look back at my own journey. Doing so lets me know I’ve been through a lot and I made it. I’m still making it. I’ll have my Bachelor’s degree soon!” Naukisha Wray-Darity is now back in school after many years without the financial means to do so. She had exhausted her pell grant and federal funding on past education and her center was not originally participating in the T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood® Scholarship Program because they did not fully understand how cost-effective it could be. Things are different now.

Naukisha teaches in the center her sister owns. Her sister tried to convince Naukisha to join her in the early childhood field when she first opened her program, but it wasn’t until after Naukisha had her son that she realized she had a gift. She created learning tools for him and her nephew and was helping them both learn through play. She decided she could help other children, too. She started working in the afterschool program and then became the full-time teacher for 3- and 4-year olds. “I fell in love with it,” she said.

Although Naukisha had already earned a two-year degree in another field, her success working with children made her want to share and learn more, so she completed her associate degree in Early Childhood Education and enough coursework to earn additional degrees, including an associate in Special Education. But that wasn’t enough. “I preach to my children all the time about the importance of college and degrees, and I wanted to meet the same standard I was setting for them.” The problem was finding the money to do it once her other options were exhausted. She said, “We really didn’t understand T.E.A.C.H. – what the percentages meant.” After talking with another participating center, they decided to give it a try.

Now Naukisha is on a T.E.A.C.H. scholarship and she continues to receive her Child Care WAGE$® supplements. She has been on WAGE$ since 2009, with ever-increasing supplement awards that reflected her ongoing education. “WAGE$ has helped me want to continue on with school,” Naukisha shared. “As a single mom at the time, my checks have helped me pay for child care and feed my kids. It helped me pay for books and classes. I don’t know what it hasn’t helped me do! Without WAGE$, it would be hard to stay in the business even though I love it. It has saved me from leaving the industry. I remember when my boys were starting school one year and I didn’t have the funds to buy what they needed. I had no idea how I was going to get through it. That Saturday, the WAGE$ check came. It was like Christmas because I could make sure my children had what they needed. They didn’t understand how hard things were for me.”

Naukisha uses her story to provide encouragement to other teachers in her child care program. 

“It gives them hope.”

By Tomonica Rice-Yarborough and Kathy Thornton from CCSA’s Professional Development Initiatives Team

World Teacher’s Day was established in 1994 to recognize and celebrate teachers all over the world for their hard work and dedication. It also brings to light the issues affecting the profession to work toward a resolution for retaining and attracting teachers to the field. This day was founded to celebrate public school teachers, but early care educators also should be recognized on this day because they’re instrumental to the growth and development of our children. Their contributions to society’s economic stability should be valued, recognized and celebrated.

One of the main issues facing early care educators is the little recognition or validation they receive for the pivotal roles they play in the lives and development of young children. As a field, early educators in North Carolina often hold degrees, but they earn significantly less than public school teachers. According to CCSA’s 2015 North Carolina Child Care Workforce Study, the median wage of center directors in North Carolina was $16.00 per hour, while teachers earned $10.97 per hour and assistant teachers earned $9.97 per hour. 

Although degree attainment has drastically increased in North Carolina, the field as a whole still suffers from being perceived as a high priced “babysitting service.” For 30 years, the T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood® Scholarship Program has provided the workforce with access to a debt-free college education while they work as low wage earners teaching future doctors, lawyers, teachers, administrative assistants, scientists…

Our brains grow faster between the ages of birth and 3 than any other time in our life. Children who are formally cared for in early education settings outside of their homes depend on the early educator to support their developmental growth. Those years are particularly formative, making the role of the early educator even more critical. According to philosopher John Locke, “a child’s mind is a blank slate waiting to be filled with knowledge.” Early educators play a big part in setting the foundation for our children’s future.

On Sept. 4, 2019, Australia celebrated Early Childhood Educators’ Day to honor and appreciate early childhood educators. The world, like Australia, should have a day set aside to recognize early childhood educators. Sadly, early childhood educators are seldom during the World Teacher’s Day observance. This lends credence to the perception that early childhood education isn’t seen as a worthy profession. Why can’t we dedicate a day of observance to them?

Early education workforce initiatives in North Carolina such as the T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood® Scholarship Program, the Child Care WAGE$® and the Infant-Toddler Educator AWARD$ salary supplement programs and NAEYC’s Power to the Profession are aimed at professionalizing the early care and education field so its members receive the respect, recognition and compensation they so rightly deserve.

By Jennifer Gioia, CCSA Communications Manager

Kellie and her family on the day of her graduation.

Kellie Toney is an early childhood educator in Cleveland County. As a recipient of Child Care WAGE$®, she sent the following letter to her North Carolina legislators:

“I wanted to take a moment to thank you all for your support of the WAGE$ program funded through Smart Start. Without this supplement, I would not have had the opportunity to complete my Bachelor’s degree while working as an assistant teacher with Cleveland County Schools. The checks I have received through this program have [gone] towards my tuition and textbooks. Without this program, I likely would not have been able to get through school without student loans. Thank you so much for supporting this program, which played such a vital role in the completion of my Birth-Kindergarten Education Bachelor’s degree. This program truly helps those of us shaping the youngest minds through private child care and public education.”

Kellie began her career in early childhood education as an assistant teacher in Head Start. “I love children. I love to be there for all of the ‘firsts’ in learning. When children arrive in NC Pre-K and Head Start, most have never been in [child care] or spent very much time learning. I am there to guide them as they begin to write their name, interact with peers and explore the world around them,” Kellie said.

After some time, Kellie began wanting a role where she could plan what to teach the children, so she decided to go back to school to complete her Birth-Kindergarten Education Bachelor’s degree from East Carolina University.

With high college tuition, textbooks and transportation expenses, Kellie’s husband had to work overtime to help her afford to go back to school. They also took out a home equity line to pay for some of her classes.

Fortunately, through Child Care Connections and a college instructor from Cleveland Community College, Kellie heard about Child Care Services Association’s Child Care WAGE$® compensation program. “WAGE$ helped me to graduate debt-free. With the help of WAGE$ funds and Education Incentive Grants, I did not ever need to take out student loans. I was able to save these funds and used them to pay for textbooks, coursework and required trips to East Carolina University,” Kellie said, “With the WAGE$ funds, we paid back [our] loans and used the remaining funding to pay for new coursework.”

Kellie felt compelled to contact and thank her legislators for their support of Smart Start, which the Cleveland County Partnership for Children, Inc. used to provide WAGE$. “WAGE$ enabled me to continue my education. This in turn benefits my students because I was equipped with the skills and knowledge to better educate my students… I want to ensure funds are available for [all] teachers.”

Learn more about Child Care WAGE$, and check out a similar program for Infant-Toddler teachers, Infant-Toddler Educator AWARD$. To continue supporting the operations of Child Care Services Association and crucial programs such as WAGE$ and AWARD$, please consider donating today.

By Jennifer Gioia, CCSA Communications Manager

Millions of Americans live with mental illness. With May just passing as National Mental Health Awareness Month, it is important to recognize that prevention and early intervention are the solutions to a healthier, happier life. 1 The National Alliance on Mental Illness records 1 in 5 (46.6 million) U.S. adults experience mental illness at least once in their lifetime, and “half of all lifetime mental health conditions begin by age 14 and 75% by age 25, but early intervention programs can help.” 2

One dependable way to intervene and prevent mental illness is recognizing it as early as possible, since even infants and young children can have mental and developmental disorders. 3 Healthy social and emotional development is the foundation for brain development in young children, and high-quality early care and education is a large piece of that development.

Child Care Services Association (CCSA) works to build solid foundations for the development of our youngest children by ensuring all children have access to high-quality early care and education and that their teachers are educated and qualified. To ensure accessibility and affordability for all children, CCSA offers free child care referral services and scholarships for parents. CCSA also maintains teachers are educated and stable through the T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood Scholarship program, and the Child Care WAGE$ and Infant-Toddler Educator AWARD$ compensation programs.

With this high-quality child care and education, infants and toddlers, “who engage with responsive, consistent and nurturing caregivers, are more likely to have strong emotional health throughout life.” 3 Supports such as T.E.A.C.H., WAGE$ and AWARD$ help child care teachers further their education and receive additional compensation, allowing them to continue teaching and caring for our youngest children.

While having happy, educated and stable teachers improves the quality of care and education a child receives, child care can still be unaffordable for parents, especially if they have more than one child in need of care. CCSA’s free child care referral services simplify the child care search, helping parents focus on what’s truly important for their specific child’s needs without worrying about another expense. “Ensuring all families have access to affordable, high-quality child care can help mitigate some of the impacts of poverty and prepare children for success in school and beyond.” 4

However, even with affordable and positive early childhood experiences and stable educators, mental health and developmental delays can be seen as early as infancy. 3 “Children can show clear characteristics of anxiety disorders, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, conduct disorder, depression, posttraumatic stress disorder, and neurodevelopmental disabilities, such as autism, at a very early age. That said, young children respond to and process emotional experiences and traumatic events in ways that are very different from adults and older children. Consequently, diagnosis in early childhood can be much more difficult than it is in adults.” 5

It is important to identify and treat mental health disorders as early as possible to reduce impairment, suffering and effects on overall health and development. 3 However, it can be difficult to identify mental health illness in young children, and parents may turn to their child’s doctors or teachers for guidance. “If properly identified using diagnostic criteria relevant to infant and early childhood development and experiences, many of these challenges can be effectively treated.” 3

“It is clear that state agencies [also] must attend to the mental health needs of infants and young children if they want to improve health and developmental outcomes, prevent impairment due to early adversity, provide trauma-informed care, and ultimately, see better returns on investment. Adopting an age-appropriate diagnosis and treatment is a significant step toward assuring better overall health for infants, young children, and their families” 3 and the teachers who educate and nurture our youngest.

Sources:
(1) https://www.nami.org/Get-Involved/Awareness-Events/Awareness-Messaging
(2) http://www.ncimha.org/
(3) A. Szekley, C. Oser, J. Cohen, T. Ahlers. ZERO TO THREE. Advancing Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health: The Integration of DC:0-5TM Into State Policy and Systems. July 31, 2018.
(4) https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/early-childhood/reports/2018/11/15/460970/understanding-true-cost-child-care-infants-toddlers/
(5) https://developingchild.harvard.edu/science/deep-dives/mental-health/

Written by Allison Miller, CCSA Compensation Initiatives Team

Worthy Wage Day

May 1 is an important day for teachers, particularly teachers working with our youngest children. It is a day when we recognize the link between quality early care and education and the wages earned by dedicated teachers. It is a day when we should say loudly that early educators do NOT earn enough. That’s what Child Care Services Association (CCSA) has been saying for decades, and we have programs in place to help support the workforce. We know that compensation matters and early educators deserve worthy wages.

Infant-Toddler Educators Typically Earn the Least

We know our youngest, most vulnerable children desperately need stable and engaging relationships with the adults in their lives. Infant-toddler teachers play a critical role in the successful development of the children they serve and yet they typically earn the least in an already underpaid field. How can these teachers stay in their classrooms when they earn $10 per hour on average in North Carolina? And that rate is $1.39 less than the average hourly rate of those teachers working with preschool-aged children. It is clear that early childhood compensation across the board must be addressed.

Finding Solutions

Parents cannot afford to pay more, so without a significant public investment, we are left with a huge problem. But we cannot let that problem keep us from finding solutions. Early educators deserve worthy wages. Thanks to funding from the NC Division of Child Development and Early Education, CCSA now offers Infant-Toddler Educator AWARD$. We provide education-based salary supplements to full-time infant-toddler teachers. With this enhanced compensation, teachers can better afford to stay in their positions, giving young children the stability they need.  

Infant-Toddler Educator AWARD$

Are you an infant-toddler teacher in North Carolina? Would you like to earn $2,000 to $4,000 more each year? AWARD$ is open to eligible teachers in every county across the state. Applications are accepted on an ongoing basis, so get yours in now! Find out how to apply here. Supplements depend upon funding availability.

Since 1994, CCSA has also offered the Child Care WAGE$® Program in participating counties. AWARD$ was modeled on the WAGE$ Program. Participants have often called their supplements “life changing.” Many talk about needing the supplements to survive, to meet the basic needs of their families. 

Early educators deserve more. We rely on them to provide critical care and education to our children. We rely on them so we can go to work and provide for our own families. We cannot let them down. Compensation matters. Let’s all loudly support worthy wages for early educators, not just today, but every day.

For more information, visit: Who’s Caring for Our Babies?

Written by Kayli Watson, Spring 2019 Communications Intern from UNC Chapel Hill

(From left to right) Chenille Coston, teacher at Little Engine Academy, and Kathy Smith, owner of Little Engine Academy, hold up their outdoor learning environment blueprints from Shape NC.

Health experts have always stressed eating healthy and being active. Instilling these values at an early age can be the first steps for a longer, healthier life for children. Children enrolled in child care may consume between 50 percent and 100 percent of their Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDA) while in care. Child care programs have a chance to provide the foundation for a healthy life, in terms of food consumption and levels of activity. Child Care Services Association (CCSA) has worked to create programs to help early care centers in multiple ways, including healthy eating and active play.

Shape NC

CCSA implemented Shape NC to increase the number of children starting kindergarten at a healthy weight. The project promotes healthy eating and active play for children from birth-5 years old by working with child care programs to instill healthy behaviors and create a solid foundation for a healthy life. Shape NC integrates multiple research-based models to provide an in-depth approach to childhood obesity prevention. It combines evidence-based programs to create a comprehensive approach in partnership with the following statewide programs: Be Active Kids®, Preventing Obesity by Design and the Nutrition and Physical Activity Self Assessment for Child Care (Go NAP SACC).

Little Engine Academy in Durham, N.C.

Like other centers, Little Engine Academy benefits from several of CCSA’s programs, including Shape NC. Kathy Smith, the center’s owner, shared how she became involved in early childhood education and created Little Engine Academy. “It was something I always wanted to do,” Smith said, “The previous owners contacted me to say that they were closing and to see if I was interested, and I jumped on the bandwagon thinking it would probably take a month to open. It actually took about three months.” While Kathy has been managing Little Engine Academy since November 2008, the center  has only been involved in Shape NC for a year.

Little Engine Academy is also working to add more healthy meals to their menus through various programs. “We like to talk to the kids about what they eat, explain where the food came from and why they should be eating it,” Smith said.

Outdoor Learning Environment

For Smith and the children at Little Engine Academy, one of the most exciting aspects of Shape NC is re-building their outdoor learning environment. “We’re part of the natural learning initiative,” Smith explained, “We’re super excited! That’s one of the things about being part of Shape NC [that is exciting as it] is helping us get to have what is called an outdoor learning environment versus a playground.”

The outdoor area is a space for children to strengthen their cognitive, social and emotional development through playing games with other kids in an environment in which they can explore and learn. Additionally, outdoor play helps kids’ physical fitness as well as sensory skills. Little Engine Academy is excited to create an area for their kids to not only learn and explore but garden and learn exactly how food is grown. Now in its second year, Shape NC will help create these spaces for child care centers through funding and fundraising opportunities in its third year.

CCSA’s Other Resources for Little Engine Academy

Shape NC is not the only resource Little Engine Academy has used from CCSA. Chenille Coston, a teacher at Little Engine Academy, is also participating in a T.E.A.C.H. NC Early Childhood Scholarship as she works to obtain her master’s degree. There also employees who have received wage supplements from the Child Care WAGE$®️ Program. Both Coston and Smith talk about the value of professional development opportunities  they have attended. “For me, it’s been really awesome. It’s always good to learn more and they provide a lot of new information for us,” Smith said, “We’ve actually incorporated a lot of things they’ve given us.”

“The trainings [have] provided new strategies that we’ve been able to use in the classroom,” Coston said as she explained a recent strategy they have incorporated to teach the kids movement. The center also participates in CCSA child care scholarships that make attending Little Engine Academy more affordable for parents.

The Future at Little Engine Academy with Shape NC

Parents will continue to be more involved with Little Engine Academy as the school gets closer to its third year of participating in Shape NC. Little Engine Academy is looking for volunteers to help remove playground equipment to make room for the new outdoor learning environment, which they will start fundraising for this summer.

If you’re interested in volunteering with Little Engine Academy to remove their playground equipment contact Jennifer Gioia at 919-967-3272.

CCSA is hosting Shape NC activities this Earth Day Festival Sunday, April 28 from 12 – 5 p.m. at the Durham City Earth Day Festival. Stop by Durham Central Park, 501 Foster St. to enjoy all day performances and tons of fun activities. Learn more here.

Learn more about Shape NC here or call us at 919-967-3272 for more information about the program.

To support the Shape NC project, click here and DONATE NOW! Your gift to fund Shape NC workshops and events in Durham, N.C. will be matched 100% through a Social Innovation Fund Grant.