A recent brief from the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) examined why and how states should use child care relief funding to increase compensation for their workforce. The report shares a reality many in afterschool know all too well: that many leave the field to pursue jobs offering increased benefits and pay, even if it's in a completely different area of work. Staffing has been a struggle, with NAEYC's November 2020 survey of child care providers finding that 69% of respondents said recruiting and retaining qualified staff is more difficult at present than it was pre-pandemic. In a June 2021 survey by the Afterschool Alliance, 57% of afterschool providers who responded indicated that finding enough staff was their primary concern this fall.
So, what can be done? The report offers several strategies and means of guidance.
Providing a safe environment for youth is undeniably a priority. The report states that, "Some states may be tempted to look to address the challenges of staffing and supply not by raising compensation but instead by lowering the bar on health and safety regulations and requirements, particularly those related to ratios and educator qualifications."
Research indicates this is wholly a misguided and dangerous approach and that the forced trade-offs will ultimately harm young people and their families. Also misguided, the report states, is the idea that staffing challenges cannot be helped by raising compensation in the context of emergency relief dollars.
"While these dollars are insufficient to change the whole system for everyone, forever, they are sufficient enough to begin to make important, foundational, and structural changes," the report explains.
The report emphasizes that to increase equity, access and quality of programs, that states, "spend as much money as possible on the education and compensation of the workforce, jumpstarting the changes that are needed for our nation's child care systems to survive and thrive."
Several states have already taken action and set the blueprint for others to follow, providing improved bonuses, hazard pay and premium pay for staff. The report says states should take advantage of Administration for Children and Families (ACF) guidance on using child care relief funds to address compensation in the form of direct payments.
"Yet direct payments should also be the minimum that all states do to increase compensation in the short term," the report states. "The deep need for increased investment to address compensation cannot come on the backs of families or staff themselves, whose poverty-level wages have subsidized the system for far too long."
The report goes on to suggest three categories of options for states to act upon today:
INCREASE ACCESS TO BENEFITS
Ideas could include subsidizing health insurance costs, establishing and expanding substitute pools, ensuring providers have access to subsidies for their children and putting income disregards in place.
CREATE STABILITY AND ACCOUNTABILITY
The report suggests raising eligibility and payment rates to increase access to subsidy and create scale, paying programs using licensed capacity rather than attendance, using contracts and grants to support the workforce, and investing in integrated provider-level data systems.
PREPARE FOR MIXED-DELIVERY SUCCESS
This approach means investing heavily in scholarships and apprenticeships with built-in wage increases; spurring innovation in higher education to increase equitable access; building supply in underserved communities and settings, and establishing and implementing a compensation schedule.
In conclusion, the report stresses: "With any of these options, state leaders, research institutions, and others should establish evaluations and impact studies now to help identify positive practices, and in support of future funding."
Early childhood educators and afterschool professionals of all kinds across the nation deserve better and fair compensation for their work.
View the brief in its entirety at National Association for the Education of Young Children.
Written by Sarah Suydam, Managing Editor of AfterSchool Today.