In honor of the Week of the Young Child, April 2-8, communities all over the country are celebrating the Early Care and Education (ECE) workforce. To our ECE professionals in the Upper Valley: We value the service and care you provide in the community! The nurturing and education you provide to young children continues throughout their lives and is a crucial support for parents and caregivers.
Child care is everyone’s business, and right now that business is facing a crisis across the Upper Valley. You don’t need to have young children to feel the impact. Decades of lack of investment in the people and systems that sustain the ECE workforce have brought about this crisis. Nationally and regionally, we are experiencing what happens to our social and economic fabric without a robust system of early care and education.
Staffing shortages within the child care sector affect our whole community. Parents are unable to return to work, and employers are unable to recruit and retain employees, both of which prevent our economic recovery. In the Upper Valley, the number of people in the workforce is still below pre-pandemic levels, and the child care crisis is a key factor. According to a recent survey from the National Association for the Education of Young Children, upwards of three-fourths of center-based ECE programs are experiencing staffing shortages in Vermont and New Hampshire.
The average salary for a child care teacher is $11 per hour and does not include benefits. No wonder child care is facing a staffing crisis. Many of these teachers are working to support their own families. These workers care for and educate the youngest members of our communities, and wages in the $11/hour range mean that many teachers struggle financially to do this very important work. It took a pandemic to demonstrate that child care providers are essential workers and it’s time their compensation correlated with their service to the community.
The current crisis comes after years of insufficient funding. New Hampshire Governor’s Office for Relief and Recovery funds and Vermont’s H.171/Act 45 last year enabled many child care providers to stay open, but these largely temporary sources of funding will not sustain the industry. Parents can’t afford to pay more, and providers can’t afford to make less.
Recognizing the urgency for community action, Vital Communities convened an in-depth symposium on child care last November. The event spurred the formation of a Steering Committee which includes membership from the Couch Family Foundation, the City of Lebanon NH, Early Care and Education Association of the Upper Valley, Let’s Grow Kids, Dartmouth Trauma Interventions Research Center, Creative Kids Adventures, and River Valley Community College. This leadership team has launched an Early Care and Education (ECE) Initiative using the community feedback from the November symposium. Workgroups are defining local solutions to the childcare crisis, focused on advocating for childcare improvements at the state and local levels, recruiting and retaining qualified childcare staff, and easing the operating cost pressures that childcare programs face with public support. (Anyone interested in joining a workgroup can contact Andra Daunhauer at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Childcare programs–and the systems that support them in providing high-quality care accessible to all families–have been operating at a capacity deficit for a long time. Real change requires substantial and sustained funding for the childcare sector. With the keystone position that affordable childcare occupies in the structure of our economic stability, we cannot afford to ignore the need for this investment any longer. We suggest that leaders consider the following immediate investments in the ECE workforce:
- Establish and fund an early childhood education recruitment campaign
- Issue quarterly retention bonuses for early childhood educators currently in the field
- Provide premium assistance to ensure all early childhood educators working in (VT) have access to health insurance they can afford
- Expand (VT) student loan repayment support program for early childhood educators
- Provide no-cost child care for the children of early childhood educators working in licensed programs.
Affordable, high-quality child care is an essential part of children’s well-being. As a society, the best investment we can make is in the well-being of the youngest members of our communities. During this Week of the Young Child, please consider how you can celebrate the ECE workers in your community. Beyond this week, the best way we can show appreciation for the ECE workers that care for our children is through livable wages and benefits. Returning to the status quo is not an option.
The Steering Committee of the Vital Communities Early Care and Education Initiative
Dr. Andra Daunhauer, Vital Communities
Sarah Jackson, Vital Communities
Amy Brooks, Early Care and Education Association of the Upper Valley
Sara Kobylenski, Couch Family Foundation and member of the Vital Communities Corporate Council
Brooke Couch Freeland, Couch Family Foundation
Emilie Tennenbaum, Let’s Grow Kids
Becky Parton, Dartmouth Trauma Interventions Research Center
Shaun Mulholland, City of Lebanon NH
Jenn Parker, Creative Kids Adventures
Alison Chisholm, River Valley Community College