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By Allory Bors, Research Coordinator at Child Care Services Association

When it comes to responding to the pandemic, child care providers have been stuck between a rock and a hard place. In many cases, providers have been forced to choose between protecting themselves from deadly illness and feeding their families. Sociologists call this a double bind. A double bind is a situation in which a person has a limited number of choices, none of which lead to a positive or desirable outcome. In this kind of situation, we might say that a person has the illusion of choice.

When we call people heroes, we suggest they have fully consented to risk their lives for the greater good. For many child care providers in North Carolina, the COVID-19 crisis produces a limited number of choices, none of which are completely free from coercion. For example, many child care providers who made the decision not to work did not receive their stimulus check or unemployment payments in a timely manner, and will no longer be eligible for unemployment as the state reopens. On the other hand, many centers and homes who chose to stay open are receiving some income but must face new regulations and threats to their health without hazard pay or the security of adequate health insurance. Many providers are struggling with limited access to supplies, inadequate food, low enrollment numbers and lost income.

The HEROES Act

On May 13, the House of Representatives passed the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Act, or HEROES Act, the next proposed stimulus relief package. During the bill’s drafting process, child care policy advocates and researchers created a model to propose a dollar amount needed to keep the child care system afloat for the duration of the crisis. This amount was in the ballpark of $50 billion. Yet, the Heroes Act allocates a mere $7 billion toward child care relief. This is the trouble with the rhetoric of heroism. According to the model, this amount is only enough to support the child care system for a month. Even in the very bill designed to assist child care workers, the word “hero” obscures the reality that providers will be asked to do a lot more with a lot less.

We also cannot forget that before COVID-19, child care providers were called to risk their livelihoods for the greater good. More than one-fifth of child care workers do not have health insurance, and providers are among the lowest-paid workers in the country. Child care providers with bachelor’s and master’s degrees accept a significant wage penalty for choosing to work in early childhood education as opposed to the public elementary education field that is funded by public dollars. And, even in the problematic conversation naming essential workers as heroes, child care providers are often left out.

None of this is to say that we should stop praising child care providers for their bravery and heroism. However, it is important to be alert for when this kind of language stands in for real actions, which speak louder than words. Though the HEROES Act has already been passed in the house, you can take action by voicing your concerns to North Carolina’s U.S. Senators before the Senate votes on the bill, using this guide by the NC Early Education Coalition.

Do you have thoughts about the HEROES Act? If you are a child care provider, what are your thoughts about the word “hero?” Write to us here.

By Allory Bors, Research Coordinator at Child Care Services Association

At the two month mark since the first case of COVID-19 in North Carolina, we at Child Care Services Association have created this timeline intended to help us mark major developments and consider how far we’ve come. 

In our first post of the series, we discussed how the constant stream of COVID-19 news and developments can be disorienting. Before we have the chance to process one piece of information, we must urgently turn our attention to something else. Yet, advocating for young children, their families and child care providers in the long term will require us to stay vigilant and follow through.

For example, we have all heard about (or have firsthand experience with) the supports that should be coming to individuals, families and businesses through the CARES Act. However, thousands of North Carolinians have waited on the phone for hours to file an unemployment claim, and payouts have been delayed for weeks. Others have yet to receive their stimulus checks and small businesses struggle to navigate loan applications.

Even if the CARES Act works as intended, the Center for American Progress predicts a possible loss of 4.5 million child care slots nationally. Emergency solutions will require not only a great level of creativity but an understanding of context so we can say with confidence what will and won’t work to support the early childhood system.

If you or someone you know has firsthand experience you would like to share about filing for unemployment, finding child care or applying for small business loans, we would love to hear from you! Comments can be submitted by email here.

You will find some of the timeline’s highlights below. Click here to read the full timeline.

North Carolina COVID-19 March and April 2020 Timeline Highlights

March 3 Governor Roy Cooper announces first person in North Carolina to test positive for Coronavirus.  
March 14 In response to a growing number of cases, Governor Cooper announces a two-week school closure, which includes NC Pre-K and pre-K sites in public schools. Other child care settings are encouraged to stay open to meet demand for emergency child care.  
March 17 NAEYC releases preliminary results from a COVID-19 survey conducted among child care providers beginning March 12. Nationally, 30% of these respondents said they would not survive a closing longer than two weeks without financial support.  
Week of March 23Child Care Services Association (CCSA) launches COVID-19 Relief Fund for child care programs, in partnership with the North Carolina Smart Start network.  
March 31 Deadline for private child care centers and family child care homes in North Carolina to apply to stay open as emergency providers, which they must do in order to legally operate. Programs that do not apply are considered closed and are not eligible for some funding for this reason.  
April 3 NC DHHS and DCDEE announce that all subsidy payments to child care providers will be paid through March, April and May, regardless of whether the center or child care home is open or closed.  
April 10 The Bipartisan Policy Center releases results from a national poll of parents and guardians of young children who used child care in the last six months. Of parents who still need to use formal care, 63% reported difficulty finding care.  
April 22Harvard Center on the Developing Child publishes a statement paper titled “Thinking About Racial Disparities in COVID-19 Impacts Through a Science-Informed, Early Childhood Lens,” in light of data showing disproportionately high rates of hospitalization and severe illness for people of color.  
April 28DCDEE data shows that 56% of child care centers and 30% of family child care homes have closed since January in North Carolina.  
May 1 Employees of Walmart, Target, Amazon, Instacart, Whole Foods and more walk off the job and ask customers to boycott as part of an International Workers Day strike.  
May 4Unemployment claims in North Carolina reach 1 million, which is 20% of the state’s workforce.
May 8Governor Cooper announces Phase 1 of re-opening plan. Phase 1 includes loosening of restrictions with some retail businesses re-opening at reduced capacity. Previously closed child care centers are allowed to reopen serving families with working parents or parents looking for work.

By Tanya Slehria, Communications Intern, and Jennifer Gioia, Communications Manager, CCSA

May 8, 2020, is National Child Care Provider Appreciation Day, a day to recognize child care providers, teachers, and other educators of young children everywhere. Join CCSA in giving thanks to those who dedicate themselves every day to educating and caring for our youngest children. Especially now during COVID-19, they deserve more than just our thanks.

Child care providers are essential workers. COVID-19 has left them to operate in extreme circumstances while providing safe and loving care to the children of other essential workers. Please consider giving to the CCSA COVID-19 Relief Fund launched in partnership with Smart Start to help child care programs in North Carolina either continue operating during this pandemic or be able to reopen once it’s safe again.

With your help, child care providers like Mary Lewis can continue to do what they love—teaching.

Mary[1] says “just watching children learn” is what she loves most about teaching. “Being able to adapt lesson plans on their level and teach them the way they need to learn, not the way I want to teach. Finding what works best for them on the individual level.”

Mary has been the director of the Children’s Center of First Baptist in Cary, N.C. for four years and just recently completed her Bachelor’s degree in December. “I have applied to UNC-G for the master’s program. I’m hoping to go all the way. I’m hoping to get a doctorate,” Mary said.

For Mary, her background sparked her career in early childhood education. “I grew up as a foster child and I’ve always looked for a way to advocate for children,” she said. As a director, Mary says she can “connect with [students] on all levels instead of just a few in the classroom.”

Her transition to teaching future teachers began with her desire to “see some changes in the early childhood college curriculum so [teachers] can be more prepared when we step in and be ready to go.” She says a change in curriculum can help teach future teachers “how to handle behavior issues [and] different things I feel like maybe we’re missing out on now in the current college curriculum.”

Mary’s favorite part of being a director is in her connections. “I love that I can connect with all the children, and all the families and the staff. My determination is to treat them the way I would want to be treated. I’ve worked for some directors that didn’t really care, you know. I really want to make a difference in [the staff’s] lives as much as the lives of the children, and T.E.A.C.H. allows me to do that,” Mary said.

As a participant in the T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood® Scholarship program since 2014, Mary said, “I would never have completed three degrees without T.E.A.C.H.”

Her advice to those beginning a journey in early childhood education is, “to not settle. Not to just go get the paper [degree], but to go and get every piece of information offered by the colleges so you can really build yourself up and know you can help change the lives of children.” 

The most rewarding part of Mary’s experience is how she “can look back at the end of the day and say that I’ve accomplished this, or together we’ve accomplished this. Together, we’ve made a change.”

CCSA is grateful for child care providers like Mary for not just caring for and educating our youngest children, but for truly being the backbone of our economy. COVID-19 has shown the rest of America this, and we hope that the CCSA COVID-19 Relief Fund will help child care programs continue to care and educate our youngest after the pandemic. Say thanks to your child care provider and donate to the CCSA COVID-19 Relief Fund today!


[1] This interview took place in January 2020.

by Allison Miller, Compensation Initiatives at CCSA, and Tanya Slehria, Communications Intern at CCSA

The world is an uncertain place right now due to the impact of coronavirus (COVID-19). In response to the pandemic, Child Care Services Association (CCSA) launched the COVID-19 Relief Fund in partnership with Smart Start to help child care programs in North Carolina with urgent and long-term expenses during this time. Once the immediate crisis has passed, the fund may shift its focus to helping families pay for child care.

Amidst these unprecedented times, celebration is likely not the first thing on our minds. However, it is more important now than ever to remember the little things. Did you know National Coffee Day will be celebrated in September 2020? Or that National Donut Day is in June? These days, and many others like them, give us an opportunity to celebrate or enjoy these simple pleasures.

So, what is “Worthy Wage Day,” on May 1, 2020?

While early educators do not earn a worthy wage, this day gives us a chance to celebrate the early educators who work with young children and recognize that earning less than $11 per hour is unacceptable. We hope that teachers, families and communities across the country are taking advantage of this special day to raise their voices and say, “Enough is enough.”

Participants of CCSA’s education-based salary supplement programs, the Child Care WAGE$® Program and Infant-Toddler Educator AWARD$®, often say they could not survive on their hourly wages alone. One teacher said the supplement is necessary for her to stay in early childhood because she was earning $3 more per hour working in retail. Retail jobs are absolutely important to our economy, especially once we reopen our stores and restaurants, but early childhood teachers are the workforce behind the workforce. We see this especially today as our early childhood educators allow our essential workers to be able to go to work during this health pandemic! They deserve to be compensated based on the value they bring. Not only do they allow parents to go to their jobs, but they also build the brains of our youngest children, children who will become citizens, leaders, future parents.

Child care is the backbone of our nation’s economy

The importance of early childhood educators cannot be overstated. The reasons they earn so little are complicated, but basically, parents simply cannot afford the cost of quality care, and without an external source of funding, such as public funding, teacher pay remains low. However, as science continues to illustrate the critical need for educated, stable early childhood teachers, there is hope that the field’s compensation will become front and center as future budget decisions are made. And as COVID-19 continues to spread, as we are experiencing now what the early childhood field has always known – child care is the backbone of our nation’s economy.

What does the research show?

We all know that positive early experiences are the building blocks of brain development and that our early childhood workforce is a critical component of this construction process. Stable and engaging relationships between young children and the adults in their lives can have a lifelong impact. As brain builders, early educators need scaffolding such as quality education, opportunities for professional development and fair compensation. With appropriate support, the early childhood workforce can provide the experiences necessary to build trust and promote learning.

To have quality care for children, teachers must be fairly compensated. A worthy wage would be a wage that acknowledges and celebrates their importance for growth and development in young children and allows them to stay in early childhood as a financially competitive profession. The supplements WAGE$ and AWARD$ offer are designed to recognize their retention and education and help address the salary gap.

Participants and employers know firsthand the importance of these incentives. One director said, “Child care teachers are not paid what they are worth. Therefore, centers have a great deal of turnover. The majority of my staff have been with me for years and I am very proud of that; WAGE$ helps them tremendously with that.”

These supplements would not be possible without the ongoing commitment and funding from local Smart Start partnerships that choose to invest in WAGE$, and the NC Division of Child Development (DCDEE). DCDEE provides funding to help support the administration of Child Care WAGE$® and is the sole funder for Infant-Toddler Educator AWARD$®.

As one AWARD$ recipient said to DCDEE, “Thank you so much for seeing us for what we’re worth and helping take some financial stress off our plates. I truly feel well taken care of and appreciate the much-needed funds.”

Make it a priority

Teachers are worthy of fair compensation. It isn’t a question. On Worthy Wage Day, especially during the time of COVID-19, make it a priority to share your appreciation with teachers and to say to anyone who will listen that “enough is enough.”

How can you help?

Learn more about how you can help early childhood educators to either continue offering quality care to the children of essential workers or to reopen once it’s safe to, and to get the tools and resources they need during this challenging time.

If you are an early childhood provider

We are especially interested in your comments about how COVID-19 has affected you. You can submit stories of hopeful moments or have the chance to vent challenges by emailing us here.

By Marsha Basloe, president of Child Care Services Association

As I drove to work this morning, the conversation on my news radio station was around essential positions in our communities. They mentioned hospitals, schools, grocery stores and more.

We must not forget our child care programs and the early childhood educators who teach and care for our children every day!

As the coronavirus affects all aspects of our lives, I urge federal, state and local policymakers to consider early childhood educators as essential workers in today’s economy. Any measures taken by government to support Americans who do not have paid sick leave, early childhood educators must be included. These dedicated teachers are the workforce that supports all other workforces. With K-12 schools closing, child care centers must consider whether to remain open and risk exposure or to close and put their teachers and staff at risk of not being paid. The centers that choose to remain open might also be needed to serve additional children.

Early childhood educators are one of the lowest-paid workforces in the U.S., and often do not have paid sick leave or health insurance. And yet, this does not reflect their value to our children and families. Science tells us the first five years of a child’s life are the most crucial for brain development, setting the architecture for all future learning. “Early experiences affect the development of the brain and lay the foundation for intelligence, emotional health, and moral development,” according to Jack Shonkoff, director of the Harvard Center on the Developing Child. [1]

“The lack of paid sick days could make coronavirus harder to contain in the United States compared with other countries that have universal sick leave policies in place,” Rep. Rosa DeLauro, who chairs the House Appropriations subcommittee overseeing federal health agencies, said in a statement. “Low-income workers and their families could be hit even harder by the virus, as low wage jobs are at the forefront of not providing sick leave benefits.” [2].

“Workers should never be forced to choose between staying home or working while sick to earn a living,” said Congressman David Price. [3] While it didn’t pass in Congress, Congressman Price co-sponsored Rep. DeLauro’s Healthy Families Act “because we need a national paid sick leave policy to help families take care of illnesses and the financial burden it may cause. And, it will help contain the spread of viruses like coronavirus by allowing sick workers to remain home.” [3]

Early childhood educators ARE essential personnel. If federal, state and local governments are going to support essential jobs, we must also support our child care workforce and our early childhood programs.

We hope that North Carolina will consider multiple areas to support programs and families, including:

  • Adjusting payment policies so they are based on enrollment of children rather than actual attendance;
  • Waiving any state policies that terminate child eligibility based on a specific number of absent days;
  • Temporarily suspending redetermination of family eligibility for child care services;
  • Allowing providers to waive co-pays and adjusting reimbursement rates accordingly.

There are many more ways we can support our communities, and we would be happy to work with the state on this. We need to ensure that we support our early childhood community!

“Every child deserves the best chance to succeed,” said Gov. Roy Cooper. “That means we have to support families, early childhood teachers, and all those who have an impact on early childhood development.” [4]


[1] The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, Medicine. From Neurons to Neighborhoods: The Science of Early Childhood Development.

[2] The Hill. Democrats introduce bill to guarantee paid sick leave in response to coronavirus.

[3] Congressman David Price’s Facebook Page. March 6, 2020 Facebook Post.

[4] Governor of North Carolina. North Carolina awarded $56 million to promote children’s well-being and early learning.

By Kay Ducharme, Regional CCR&R Senior Manager at Child Care Services Association

Part III: Why is data important?

For Child Care Services Association (CCSA), collecting data about the impact and effects of high quality child care is one of the most important things we can do for early childhood educators, young children and families. To that end, we talk to educators and families daily, collecting an enormous amount of data to analyze the needs of families and early childhood educators. In fact, we are the only organization in North Carolina that collects data on child care supply and demand. This information helps us strengthen and innovate the child care system for families, child care providers, programs and communities.

Yet, I am often asked why we have to collect all of this data. In short, data is absolutely vital to ensuring that all children have access to high quality child care led by educated and motivated teachers.

For example, recent data indicates decreases in the number of classrooms, family child care homes and the total number in the child care workforce. Since child care resource and referral (CCR&R) is the only system that collects data on both supply and demand, we continue to help families locate child care as the supply decreases and the need increases. We also work to help start-up new programs to fill gaps where the supply of child care is limited. Our data can be used to help us advocate for change in public policy. And we need data to accurately tell the story of what families and providers across North Carolina need to strengthen services for families and the early childhood education field.

Federal funds to support CCR&R are a part of the Child Care Development Block Grant (CCDBG). The state’s Division of Child Development and Early Education (DCDEE) defines goals each year for the Council to help North Carolina meet federal block grant requirements. Regional CCR&R Lead Agencies receive funding from the Council to provide services in the 14 CCR&R regions based on population, community and child care demographics, workforce numbers and number of classrooms in the region, etc. The Council reports outcomes, outputs and demographics to DCDEE each year. These reports enable us to analyze customer needs and identify gaps in services and trends in each of North Carolina’s 100 counties.

Statewide in FY19, the NC CCR&R system data indicated that the 14 regions trained 24,180 early educators; 3,077 of those training participants received CEUs. In addition to training, CCR&R agencies provided technical assistance to 6,171 classrooms/homes and consumer education and/or consultation to 21,738 households across the state. Ninety-eight percent (98%) of families surveyed said they used quality indicators when choosing child care and 97% of the families surveyed indicated that they chose a 3-5 star rated child care program after using CCR&R services. By collecting data in a consistent manner using defined data sets, data is monitored to ensure reliability.

To access a membership to the website for CCR&R staff, please contact Mary Erwin, NC CCR&R Council Coordinator at Child Care Services Association, here.

For more in-depth knowledge of the CCR&R system, training sessions are available each year throughout the state for new staff. The final one for this fiscal year will be held in Greenville, N.C., at the Martin-Pitt Partnership for Children, April 23 at 9:30 a.m. You can register for the training session here.

To read the first part of this series on what the statewide CCR&R is, click here.

To read the second part of this series on what the NC CCR&R Council is, click here.

By Kay Ducharme, Regional CCR&R Senior Manager at Child Care Services Association

Part II: What is the NC CCR&R Council?

The NC CCR&R Council was designed by the state’s Division of Child Development and Early Education (DCDEE) to standardize the delivery of child care resource and referral (CCR&R) services and provide equitable funding across the state. Before the Council was created, North Carolina had a fragmented, under-resourced CCR&R system that delivered services to children from birth to 5 or birth through 12, depending on where they lived. Some CCR&Rs provided non-English services while others did not. Databases and reporting mechanisms were different and data on programs, children and families served was not collected in a consistent manner. This made it impossible to provide accurate statewide data when advocating for changes in public policy or reporting to federal or state governments on the successes and/or gaps in services across North Carolina.

The Council allowed DCDEE to ensure that CCR&R services were equitably funded and available in communities across the state for providers and families of children from birth through age 12 in the two most commonly used languages, no matter where they lived or worked. In addition, they wanted to ensure that the system was data driven and that data was collected consistently. This allows DCDEE to paint an accurate picture of what is happening in North Carolina for policymakers using consistent statistical data. It was also created with a flexible structure to accommodate emerging needs as priorities and funding sources change.

Today, the Council manages and delivers CCR&R core services and special initiatives which include providing technical assistance and training to early care and education professionals, helping families locate child care services, collecting and analyzing data to help shape public policy and provide community awareness, helping young children build strong social-emotional behaviors, helping support babies, helping improve school-age services and others as requested by DCDEE. The Council collaborates with other early childhood entities in North Carolina to strengthen early childhood and also leads many projects that increase the quality and availability of child care, provides research and advocates for child care policies that positively impact the lives of children and families.

The three agencies chosen to partner as the Council—Child Care Services Association, Child Care Resources Inc. and Southwestern Child Development Commission—are referred to as Council Management Agencies (CMAs) and each one is responsible for the management of 4 to 5 regions (inclusive of their own region). Below is a map showing how regions are structured today.

A wealth of information is provided by the Council to support CCR&Rs, children, families, providers and communities. In addition to training and technical assistance, other resources provided to CCR&Rs include:

  • train the trainer classes;
  • an annual conference;
  • email and advocacy alerts;
  • regulatory changes and notices;
  • collaborative meetings;
  • definitions/instructions and data collection forms;
  • regional directories;
  • a monthly news blast with early childhood news and links to regional training calendars;
  • a website;
  • Art and Science of TA and Emergency Preparedness training calendars;
  • manuals;
  • workgroups; and
  • contract management.

Read more about why the data collected is important in the final part of this series here.

To read the first part of this series on what the statewide CCR&R is, click here.

By Kay Ducharme, Regional CCR&R Senior Manager at Child Care Services Association

Part I: What is the Statewide CCR&R?

CCR&R stands for child care resource and referral. It is carried out by organizations that focus on building the supply of child care and supporting child care programs through training and technical assistance for early childhood educators. CCR&R agencies emerged in the early 1970s to help families locate child care as more women began entering the workforce. As young families became more mobile and moved away from home to take jobs in other places, leaving their support systems behind, the demand for child care increased dramatically. North Carolina’s first CCR&R agency was the Durham Day Care Council, established in 1974. Day Care Services Association in Orange County and Durham Day Care Council merged in 1999 to become Child Care Services Association (CCSA).

Today, CCR&R core services include helping parents locate child care, advocating for the needs of families and young children, building the supply of quality child care through training and other resources for programs, bridging child care and education and gathering important data on child care needs/trends. In North Carolina, CCR&R is done by organizations in 14 regions and overseen by three agencies: Child Care Services Association (CCSA) in the Triangle area, Child Care Resources Inc. (CCRI) in the Charlotte area and Southwestern Child Development Commission (SWCDC) in western North Carolina. These agencies are referred to as the Council Management Agencies (CMAs) and each one is responsible for the management of four or five regions, including their own.

Learn more about the NC CCR&R Council that is comprised of the three CMAs including a map breaking down the 14 regions in the next part here.

To read the final part of this series about why the data collected is important, click here.

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 children.”

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.

By Marsha Basloe, President of CCSA

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:

Source: FY2020 non-defense consolidated appropriations bill (HR 1865, PL116-94) enacted on December 20, 2019.

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 [1] 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. [2] 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. [3] 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. [4] 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. [5]

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, [6] the average annual income of home-based providers is approximately $15,000 per year, [7] 18% higher than in North Carolina, where the average income of home-based providers is $12,300. [8] 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, [9] 65.4 percent of mothers with children age 2 are working [10] and, 57.8 percent of mothers with children under age 1 are working. [11] 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. [12]

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. [13]

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. [14]

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 redesign.


[1] U.S. Department of Agriculture, Child and Adult Care Food Program, January 2020. https://fns-prod.azureedge.net/sites/default/files/resource-files/ccsummar-1.pdf

[2] U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Family Assistance, TANF expenditures FY2018. https://www.acf.hhs.gov/ofa/resource/tanf-financial-data-fy-2018

[3] U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), Child Care: Access to Subsidies and Strategies to Manage Demand Vary Across States, 2016. https://www.gao.gov/assets/690/681652.pdf

[4] Center for American Progress, https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/early-childhood/reports/2018/12/06/461643/americas-child-care-deserts-2018/; Child Care Aware of America, https://www.childcareaware.org/our-issues/research/mappingthegap/.

[5] U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Center on Early Childhood Quality Assurance, 2019. https://childcareta.acf.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/public/addressing_decreasing_fcc_providers_revised_final.pdf

[6] Committee for Economic Development of The Conference Board, Child Care in State Economies: 2019 Update. https://www.ced.org/childcareimpact

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] U.S. Census Bureau, Table S2301, Employment Status, 2018 American Community Survey, 1 Year Estimates.

[10] U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Table 6. Employment status of mothers with own children under age 3 years old by single year of age of youngest child and marital status, 2017-2018 averages.

[11] Ibid.

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

[13] Committee for Economic Development of The Conference Board, Child Care in State Economies: 2019 Update. https://www.ced.org/childcareimpact

[14] National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, Transforming the Financing of Early Care and Education, 2018.  https://www.nap.edu/catalog/24984/transforming-the-financing-of-early-care-and-education