My childcare journey has been a rocky one. After months of trying to get my son into a daycare, he finally got placed right before his first birthday. He has been going to daycare for nearly a year now and loves his teachers and friends. However, I became disheartened when I realized that he would have a different set of teachers every couple of months due to the high turnover rate.
It broke my heart to know that my son was developing attachments to staff members who would end up not staying at the center for very long. I found more of the same when I looked into other child care options for my son. This was even the case among providers that were outside of my price range. All of the centers struggled with high turnover among their teachers and assistants.
One daycare I interviewed didn’t have a single teacher who had been there for more than two years. Also, the class sizes were larger than the small, intimate setting I was hoping for, for my son. As a parent, it is hard feeling like you don’t have options, and I’m sure childcare providers feel the same way.
Childcare providers play a crucial role in our society. Not only do they educate our children, but they also allow many of us parents to go to work ourselves. Although essential, they are often undervalued, and parents feel it when childcare providers’ needs aren’t met.
The median pay for child care workers in the U.S. is $13.22 an hour. Not to mention, most of these workers are women and disproportionately women of color – adding to the racial and gender pay gap. I bet teachers would stay at these daycare centers longer if the pay were better, if their benefits were good, if there were more workers on staff to ease the workload.
Data tells us that it would. A report released by the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis found, in centers where the average wage was below $10 per hour to take care of our youngest children, 23.1% of staff leave over the course of a year. However, centers where the average wage was at or above $25 per hour have an average annual turnover of 7.5%.
When saying goodbye to two of my son’s favorite teachers, they both shared that they were leaving, in part, due to their concern about the health risks that the job posed to them and their families. Young children in daycare get sick regularly. I am learning that it’s a natural part of children congregating together. However, at that particular time, both the flu and RSV had been circulating at the daycare, and COVID remained a threat.
In North Carolina, where I live, less than half of the early childhood education centers provide employees help paying for health insurance costs. In this day and age, such environments aren’t conducive to keeping staff long term, and this hurts the children they care for.
Shortly after a new teaching team joined my son’s class, I noticed a change in his behavior at home. He seemed agitated and unhappy, and had a hard time sleeping. I wondered if something was going on at daycare that was stressful for him.
I later came across a Head Start study that found that higher teacher turnover led to fewer gains in vocabulary and literacy, as well as increased behavioral problems among young children. Thankfully, these behavioral challenges were short-lived. However, this isn’t something that I want my son or other children to have to experience in his most critical years of development.
Child care centers would better serve everyone if we acknowledged and worked to address the needs of our child care providers and the families they serve. Providers need better pay and benefits. Child care is often funded based on old models. However, child care centers can construct cost models to show how much money is needed to run a high-quality facility and help identify gaps. This model can serve as a powerful advocacy tool. Additionally, joining the Childcare Changemakers is a good way for parents and providers to advocate for the child care system we need.
Our child care providers deserve a living wage, we need a child care system built on racial and gender justice, and child care should be affordable to all parents.