Blog

By Marsha Basloe, President, Child Care Services Association

During a child’s earliest years, brain development occurs that sets the architecture for all future learning (e.g., the wiring needed for healthy child development across social, emotional, physical, and cognitive areas).[1]  This is what makes high-quality child care for infants and toddlers so important.

At the same time, infant and toddler care is the hardest to find. The supply of infant and toddler care pales in comparison to the needs of working parents. A report by the Center for American Progress found that 44 percent of families in North Carolina live in a child care desert where the demand for child care by working families far exceeds the supply.[2]

Even when families can find it, too many struggle with the cost, particularly for infants and toddlers. Throughout North Carolina, the average annual price of child care for an infant in a child care center is $9,254.[3]  The average annual price of child care for an infant in a family child care home is $7,412.[4]

Data from: NC Labor

For perspective, for a single mother earning minimum wage ($7.25 per hour) working full-time, she would earn $15,080 per year. The cost of center-based infant care would be 61.4 percent of her income. The cost of infant care in a family child care home would be 49.2 percent of her income. If she earns twice the minimum wage ($14.50 per hour), about $30,160 per year – the cost of child care in a center would be 30.7 percent of her income. The cost of infant care in a family child care home would be 24.6 percent of her income. If she earns three times the minimum wage ($21.75 per hour), her annual income would be about $45,240 per year. Center-based infant care would cost 20.5 percent of her income; infant care in a family child care home would cost 16.4 percent of her income.

To help families with the cost of child care, the North Carolina Division of Child Development and Early Education (DCDEE) offers qualifying families a subsidy.[5] The state pays most of the cost and families have a 10 percent co-pay. Unfortunately, not all families who qualify can receive assistance and more than 30,000 eligible children throughout the state are on a waiting list for child care financial help.[6] It is important to note that the waiting list is only a snapshot in time because some families don’t join the list when they hear about the length of it. So, the waiting list reflects only those who qualify for help and who also add their names to the waiting list in case more funding becomes available to support additional families.

For families with infants and toddlers, the supply and cost are both struggles. It’s unrealistic to think that families can access the licensed market if they have to pay a huge percentage of their income to cover the cost. Why is that a concern to all North Carolina taxpayers? There are several reasons.

  • Quality of child care and long-term taxpayer bills. When parents can’t afford the licensed market, if they must stay in the workforce to make ends meet, then they will try to make do with a variety of unlicensed care options. Given the brain development that is underway during a child’s earliest years, it is critical that a child be in a setting that promotes his or her healthy development. That’s one of the reasons for the rated child care license[7] in North Carolina and one of the reasons the NC General Assembly restricted the receipt of child care subsidies to programs with at least a 3-star rating. Supporting healthy child development is important, particularly for infants and toddlers when the brain is developing the fastest.  Taxpayers will pay more in the long-term when a child enters kindergarten without the skills to succeed through additional costs for remediation, for special education, and for those children who must repeat a grade (e.g., repeating a grade is not “free”).
  • Labor force participation. Without affordable child care, parents reduce their hours or opt-out of the workforce. Ninety-four percent of workers involuntarily working part-time due to child care problems are women.[8] In North Carolina, 457,706 children under age 6 have working parents.[9] If one-third to one-half of these children under 6 are infants and toddlers, that’s 151,043 to 228,853 children who may need some type of child care while their parents work.
  • Employers & Employees. Employers depend on working parents. And, working parents with young children depend on some type of child care.

As the General Assembly meets to discuss budget priorities, child care assistance should be at the top of the list. Given the extraordinary cost of child care for infants and toddlers, the General Assembly may want to consider reviewing other models to support access to high-quality infant and toddler care.

In June 2018, the District of Columbia City Council unanimously passed the Birth to Three for All DC Act.[10] The legislation charts the path for a comprehensive system of supports for children’s healthy growth and development with a specific focus on services for families with infants and toddlers. The Act is broad — investing in home visiting and child developmental screening, however, with regard to child care for infants and toddlers, the Act expands child care subsidy eligibility for infants and toddlers to all families by 2027, caps the percentage of annual income a family would pay toward child care expenses at 10 percent of gross income by 2028, and phases in competitive compensation for early educators. The District is now in its second year of implementation with $16 million in funding for FY2020.[11] City Council members say it’s a high priority to increase funding as part of the 2021 budget, and work on that front is underway.[12]

There are certainly differences in passing legislation that supports a city (even a large city like Washington, D.C.) compared to a state. However, the concept is innovative. It recognizes that the cost of infant and toddler care is so high that all families may struggle with the cost. It recognizes that access to high-quality infant and toddler care is important to a child’s healthy development. And, it recognizes that a compensation strategy for the child care workforce is needed to support high-quality programs.

It is time to rethink the state’s approach to child care subsidy, and especially how families with infants and toddlers are supported in accessing high-quality child care. In the new year, let’s give thanks for what we have and think through policies that can best support our children in the future. 


[1] Harvard University Center on the Developing Child, Brain Architecture.

[2] Center for American Progress, America’s Child Care Deserts in 2018.

[3] Child Care Aware of America, The US and the High Price of Child Care: 2019.

[4] Ibid.

[5] NC Division of Child Development & Early Education: Subsidy Services.

[6] North Carolina Center for Public Policy Research, June 7, 2019.

[7] NC Division of Child Development & Early Education: Star Rated License.

[8] Committee for Economic Development, Child Care in State Economies: 2019 Update.

[9] 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.

[10] B22-0203 – Infant and Toddler Developmental Health Services Act of 2017 (now known as “Birth-to-Three for All DC Act of 2018”).

[11] Significant Birth to Three Funding Passes in the DC Council, May 28, 2019.

[12] D.C. reaped benefits of expanded preschool. Now we must focus on even younger children.

Written by Jennifer Gioia, CCSA Communications Manager

Both Kellie Brower, director of The Goddard School of Chapel Hill for two years, and Valerie Morris, owner and director of Beginning Visions Child Development Center & School in Alamance County for 20 years, had to recently recertify their centers. Both turned to the Infant-Toddler Quality Enhancement Project (ITQEP) for help.

Kellie “didn’t feel comfortable enough to lead the faculty” of her center into recertification on her own and reached out to Amanda Hazen, one of the infant-toddler specialists at ITQEP. When Valerie’s center needed recertification, ITQEP reached out to her, and she found it to be very helpful. Whether it’s two years or 20 years, ITQEP is there to assist even the most seasoned directors and staff achieve quality infant-toddler care.

What is the Infant-Toddler Quality Enhancement Project?

In 2004, the NC Division of Child Development and Early Education, in collaboration with the NC Resources and Referral Council, established the statewide Infant-Toddler Quality Enhancement Project (ITQEP). Operated by Child Care Services Association (CCSA), the NC ITQEP supports the development of higher quality infant and toddler classrooms in all of North Carolina’s 100 counties by providing specially trained infant-toddler specialists across the state for coaching, mentoring and consultation to teachers and directors of early care and education centers.

How Does the Infant-Toddler Quality Enhancement Project Help Child Care Directors?

“[ITQEP] helped us get ready for stars,” Kellie said. “With the new rules that have come out, [ITQEP] explained them and provided suggestions to get us over the hump…Honestly, they are my first point of contact whenever I have any questions. They have been seriously amazing. Always get back to me quickly, it never takes them long at all. They always seem to be available and happy to help, so it’s been really great.”

The NC Division of Child Development and Early Education issues star rated licenses to all eligible child care centers and family child care homes based on indicators of a program’s quality of care and education.[1] Child care programs can receive one to five stars. The star-rated license acts as a “roadmap” for providers to follow as they strive to improve the quality of their care.[2]

“Honestly, I would say them helping us with the stars rating [has been my favorite], because it is such a taxing procedure, and I can’t do it all by myself,” Kellie said. “Having that extra support means the world to me. It’s worth it to have them come in and be an outsider to look in, you know, to see what they see, because sometimes I’ll go into a classroom 15 times and I won’t see the things that they see, because that is something that I’m looking at every day.”

“I want to make sure we’re doing the right thing and we’re staying up to date,” Valerie said. “The rules and regulations, especially with the [ITERS] scales, change so much and so often that sometimes I have to get outside help to come in and remind me of things to keep me on top of the game.”

In order for programs to achieve a higher star rating, they must be accessed with the environment rating scale, which measures both quality and education. The Infant-Toddler Environment Rating Scale (ITERS) assesses child care programs for children birth to 2 ½ years of age.

“Definitely by far, [ITQEP] has been my favorite service,” Valerie said. “Amanda has been very thorough and very consistent. She finished the whole thing. Sometimes I have people come and it seems like we lose contact, but Amanda went out of her way and followed up to the end, and still after that, she contacts me regularly to ask me if I need anything, or if I have any questions, or to share an update she learned…She’s very enlightening.”

How do Teachers Apply the Infant-Toddler Quality Enhancement Project in the Classroom?

Knowing the reasons why, and not only how, are just as important for teachers when applying new lessons and suggestions from infant-toddler specialists in the classroom. “We had a question about an infant diaper changing procedure,” said Kellie. ITQEP specialists visited and “[made] it easier for me to give our teachers why we’re doing it and how we’re doing it. It’s just easier to apply in the classroom if I also have reasons why.”

“[ITQEP has] been really informative,” Kellie said. “Every time they come in, they are giving us something, whether it is tips and tricks, suggestions, encouragements, which is great, but it’s also nice because even if they’re just giving information to me, I can easily train the staff… then they always follow-up to make sure that we’ve been able to implement their suggestions, and if we weren’t, they come up with new suggestions.”

“[ITQEP Specialist Amanda] created an art carrier for the young ones, the ones that are one turning into the age when they have art,” Valerie said. “She made a little carrier so it would be easier to pull it out and put it back up. Sometimes with the older toddlers, we would leave the art out, but it would kind of make a mess, so she said you don’t have to leave it out all the time, put it in this carrier and it’s easy. You can pull it out when you’re ready to use it, as long as you make it accessible to them for an hour or so a day.”

“[ITQEP Specialists also] helped us redo the schedule to make the teachers’ schedule run smoother, so they wouldn’t have to do so much hand washing,” Valerie said. “Let’s go outside, come straight in and wash hands, and then sit at the table, rather than coming in, washing hands, playing for a little bit and then washing hands again and sitting down. It saves us some time.”

Kellie has also noticed a change in her how her teachers relate to the children.

“I’ve just noticed so much more focus on tummy time and [our teachers] understand why it’s important to physical development,” Kellie said. “Language was something that some of our teachers were struggling with because they had also come from ECERS classes and they just didn’t know how to relate to the younger children. So, I’ve also noticed a huge difference in the language between the teachers and the children, which has been great.”

“[ITQEP specialists] genuinely have the best interest of the infants and toddlers at heart,” Kellie said. “There’s never a question of what is important to them. But you can see in their attitude and their professionalism that infant-toddlers are always their focus, and they want them to grow up and be socially, emotionally, physically and academically developed well…[The ITQEP has] been amazing and invaluable, honestly, to me as the director and also to our staff.”

To continue supporting the operations of Child Care Services Association and crucial programs such as the Infant-Toddler Quality Enhancement Project, please donate today.


Sources:

[1] The North Carolina Division of Child Development and Early Education. https://ncchildcare.ncdhhs.gov/Services/Licensing/Star-Rated-License/star-rated-license

[2] Smart Start of Forsyth County. https://smartstart-fc.org/star-rating-system-your-child/

On Thursday, June 7, 2018, the North Carolina Early Education Coalition (the Coalition) took Raleigh by storm with the first Strolling Thunder event at the NC Museum of Natural Sciences and Bicentennial Plaza. Click here to read more about how the Coalition brought families with young children and other early childhood advocates to the NC General Assembly to raise public awareness and speak with their policymakers about making the potential of every baby in North Carolina a top priority.