Blog

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/

Written by Allison Miller, VP of Compensation Initiatives at CCSA

Early Educator’s Day

Australia has the right idea. They celebrate Early Educator’s Day on September 4, 2019. We should do the same! We have National Provider’s Day in May, but shouldn’t we celebrate teachers who work with our young children at every opportunity? They deserve our recognition; children need them, parents need them and the nation needs them. They truly are the workforce behind the workforce.

The Workforce Behind the Workforce Deserves Better Compensation

Early educators make it possible for other professionals to go to their jobs, to lend their expertise to the community, to grow the economy. To be productive in the workforce, parents need peace of mind that can only come from knowing their children are in safe, stable, positive and engaging environments with teachers who can appropriately guide their learning.

It’s a lot to expect when early childhood teachers, on average, earn $10.97 per hour in North Carolina. It’s not an easy problem to solve because most parents cannot afford to pay more than they do. That’s where the Child Care WAGE$® Program comes in.

A Compensation Strategy: The Child Care WAGE$® Program

Early educators deserve to be paid commensurate with their education and the importance of their jobs. Sadly, that’s simply not the case. The Child Care WAGE$® Program is an education-based salary supplement program for teachers, directors and family child care providers working with children birth to five. Awards are issued after the eligible participant has completed at least six months with the same child care program.

As a result of this additional compensation, early educators not only earn more, but they are more likely to stay and increase their education. The quality of child care is improved when turnover rates are low, education is high and compensation is fair.

WAGE$ is made possible with the funding provided by the local Smart Start partnerships that elect to participate and the NC Division of Child Development and Early Education.

Does WAGE$ work?

Yes! In the fiscal year 2018-2019, WAGE$ recipients from the 55 participating N.C. counties earned an average six-month supplement of $974, which breaks down to about $.94 more per hour for full-time employment. The vast majority of participants had at least a two-year degree with significant early childhood coursework and they stayed in their programs. Only 14% left their employers last year, which is notably lower than turnover rates prior to WAGE$ availability.

WAGE$ Recognizes Early Educators

In addition to the program results of increased education, retention and compensation, WAGE$ recognizes the importance of early educators and the key role they play in our lives. It is a way to show appreciation and to boost morale for an underpaid workforce.

In fact, 97% of survey respondents said that WAGE$ makes them feel more appreciated and recognized for their work.  The feedback of participants always highlights this message.

One teacher shared, “WAGE$ has shown the value of giving incentives to teachers.  Teachers need to feel appreciated and rewarded.  All teachers deserve a chance to feel special and loved; that is how WAGE$ makes me feel.”

We all need to take the time to show our appreciation to this workforce. They deserve it. Happy Early Educator’s Day!

For more information, view the Child Care WAGE$® Program: NC Statewide Report (FY19).

Written by Marsha Basloe, CCSA President

My children were born in the late ‘70s, and I remember as a young parent having discussions with our realtor about whether there was lead in the paint of the very old house we were buying. Almost all houses built before 1970, at least in the U.S., contain some form of lead paint. The house we were buying was built much before 1970, and it was clear that we would have to sand and paint every room, change the plumbing and all the good things that come with owning an old home. And fortunately, we did all of that over time, very carefully.

I will admit, however, that I do not remember if lead testing was one of the many conversations I had with our pediatrician about the health and safety of our children. Today, however, it is an essential conversation to have!

Lead Poisoning Today

Lead poisoning has been in the news a lot over the last few months due to the concerning levels of lead found in the water supply of child care programs and its potential impact on the health and safety of the surrounding community. Currently, North Carolina does not require testing water for lead in child care programs, unless a child is found to have elevated blood lead levels. The news has been especially alarming for parents and families who work hard to keep their children safe and on a path to reach their fullest potential. Lead in the public water supply threatens that daily charge.

This issue is not only an issue specific to child care programs: An estimated 10 million Americans get drinking water from pipes that are at least partially lead.

Young Children are the Most at Risk

Young children are especially at risk of harm from lead. Babies and young children’s bodies are still developing and are in a critical life stage for brain development. When they are exposed to lead from water or other sources, it enters directly into the bloodstream where it can harm developing organs, muscles and bones. Infants who rely on formula get 100% of their nutritional intake from water. If that water is tainted with lead, they get an enormous dose of it compared with older children and adults.

Research shows there really is no safe level of lead exposure for a child. Even at the lowest levels of exposure, lead can reduce IQ and harm a child’s ability to concentrate and focus in school. These effects are permanent and can affect a child’s education, health outcomes and long-term earning potential.

Lead poisoning is preventable by identifying lead before children are harmed. The most important step that parents, teachers and others can take is to prevent lead exposure before it occurs. The North Carolina Commission for Public Health is proposing a change to a child care sanitation regulation that will significantly reduce exposure to lead for some of the youngest and most vulnerable children in our state. With U.S. Environment Protection Agency grant money to pay for the first round of testing, North Carolina can work to make drinking water safer for infants and young children without adding to child care costs.

Prevention: The Proposed Child Care Sanitation rule

We all know that prevention is the best medicine. The proposed child care sanitation rule is an example of a good preventative approach to lead exposure. The following requirements included in the proposed rule will help ensure that it protects children from potential lead in child care drinking and food prep water:

Testing for lead in drinking and food prep water every three years – Lead levels in water can fluctuate over time. Changes in water source or chemistry can cause leaching of lead from pipes into water, increasing water lead levels.[1] This is what led to the Flint water crisis. Additionally, unforeseen plumbing problems such as a dirty aerator or a partial clog can release lead from pipes into drinking and food prep water. Finally, improper maintenance of filters by child care operators can decrease the effectiveness of mitigation measures taken to prevent lead exposure.

Testing all buildings despite age – Buildings constructed after the 1986 Lead Ban may still pose a significant risk of lead contamination in drinking and food prep water. The ban, effective as of 1988, defined “lead free” as materials containing less than 8% lead, which allowed lead to remain in pipes that convey drinking water to homes and in fixtures and faucets in homes. An amendment to the Safe Drinking Water Act, effective as of 2014, redefined “lead free to require faucets and pipes to contain less than 0.25% lead; as such buildings constructed between 1988 and 2014 can still contain plumbing and fixtures with significant lead content.”[2] Testing all buildings despite age will ensure that no building poses a considerable risk of lead exposure.

Testing all taps – The concentration of lead in one tap is not indicative of the concentration of lead in all taps in a building. Lead concentration across taps can vary because lead can originate from an individual faucet, a dirty aerator or a filter that hasn’t been changed. Therefore, it is critical to test all taps to ensure safe child care center drinking and food prep water.

What You Can Do

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has information on lead poisoning that you can read and share.

Talk with your health care provider about lead screening. Lead screening measures the level of lead in the blood through a blood test in the finger or vein. It is important. Lead is a toxin that is particularly dangerous for young children because of their small size and rapid growth and development. It can cause behavioral and learning difficulties, anemia, seizures and other medical problems. A lead test is the only way to know if your child has lead poisoning. Most children who have lead poisoning do not look or act sick. Talk to your doctor about this.

Child Care Services Association (CCSA) provides free referral services to families seeking child care, technical assistance to child care businesses and educational scholarships and salary supplements to child care professionals through the T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood®, Child Care WAGE$® and Infant-Toddler Educator AWARD$ Programs. Through the T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood National Center, CCSA licenses its successful programs to states across the country and provides consultation to others addressing child care concerns. Ensuring that every young child can grow and learn in a healthy and safe learning environment is central to our mission.

CCSA supports the adoption of this rule that would protect thousands of babies and children from lead exposure in child care drinking and food prep water. Additionally, requiring cost-effective mitigation where elevated lead water levels are found will have the added benefit of getting rid of other harmful toxicants such as copper and chlorine by-products.

In North Carolina, public health officials have been working for more than 30 years to eliminate childhood lead poisoning, and have come very close to doing so. Childhood blood lead levels have dropped dramatically population-wide. Unfortunately, some pockets of high exposure remain. Ending lead exposure in drinking and food prep water is an important step to move us toward the goal of no lead exposure for our state’s young children. The proposed amendment will help get us there.

The best way to protect kids from lead exposure is to be proactive about getting rid of lead, rather than waiting for a child to be found with elevated levels in their blood. To do so, we must be willing to get rid of toxic lead in children’s environments. This rule will help us do just that. You can show your support of this rule and submit your comment to the North Carolina Commission for Public Health by August 2, 2019.

Below, are more resources on lead poisoning.

Support Child Care Services Association’s work to ensure the first five years for all North Carolina’s children are happy and healthy. Make a donation today.


[1] For detailed scientific information about how changes in water chemistry can affect levels of lead found in water, see: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5353852/.

[2] EPA, Use of Lead Free Pipes, Fittings, Fixtures, Solder and Flux for Drinking Water, https://www.epa.gov/dwstandardsregulations/use-lead-free-pipes-fittings-fixtures-solder-and-flux-drinking-water (accessed 3 March 2019).

Written by Edith Locke, CCSA Professional Development Team

The month of May signals the season for commencement exercises at colleges and universities nationwide. As students walk proudly across the stage in cap and gown, triumphantly moving the tassel on their mortarboard to symbolize academic achievement, it is important to recognize degree attainment roadblocks that the early care and education (ECE) field face.

Why are early educators more deserving of special acknowledgment for degree completion than other non-traditional, working students?

First, one should consider the shared traits of this workforce with college non-completers. The ECE workforce, much like the college non-completer, typically has dependent children, low income, works full-time, attends college part-time and is financially independent from parents.

Despite how closely they mirror college non-completers, degree attainment is not impossible. The 2015 Working in Early Care and Education in North Carolina Study reported 63 percent of teachers had a college degree. Additionally, 17 percent of teachers were taking courses in the ECE field with 60 percent of them working towards an associate or bachelor’s degree.

Unfortunately, degree attainment rarely means significant compensation gains. The median wage for ECE teachers was $10.46 compared to $17.61 starting wage of public school teachers in North Carolina.  Additionally, over 70 percent of the workforce’s household income was below the $46,784 North Carolina median household income. Moreover, 39 percent of teachers received some public assistance in the previous three years.

It is commendable the ECE workforce makes educational advancements despite challenges.

Workforce supports, such as the T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood® scholarship and Child Care WAGE$® salary supplement programs that help early educators access formal education and reward their retention, are crucial. Research shows degrees are linked to quality care, and maternal education has been linked to better child outcomes. Therefore, support for degree attainment in the ECE field should remain a priority.

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?