Advancing the Early Childhood Workforce
Nationwide, public attention has increasingly focused on the need for a variety of early care and education arrangements to meet the changing needs of families. The demand for early care and education has grown for families from all socioeconomic sectors, intensifying as participants in welfare-to-work programs enter the workforce, and as work requirements for these programs become more stringent. In addition, research affirming the importance of children’s initial years for their later social and cognitive development has heightened public awareness of and concern for the quality of care provided in centers and family childcare homes. Political will in support of early care and education has expanded in an attempt to keep pace with public sentiment.
This growing public and political interest in early care and education reflects genuine needs on the part of families nationwide. The need is particularly acute among low-income sectors of the population, who can least afford quality care arrangements for their children. In California alone, it was estimated in 2000 that 232,000 children were in need of subsidized childcare beyond what could be provided under the state’s budget proposal at the time. Across all children aged 0–13 with working parents in California, there is one available slot in a licensed center or family childcare home per 4.6 children, indicating that the supply of early care and education may not be in step with demand. Another study documented that, from 1996 to 2000, the number of preschool slots per 100 children aged 0–5 years rose only from 13 to 14 in California.
However, while the demand for affordable, quality care for young children is on the rise, the realities of the early care and education (ECE) field present a different picture: understaffed centers, high rates of turnover among caregivers, and an educationally bifurcated workforce (with caregivers either on the low or high end of the educational spectrum).
Turnover is a persistent problem in the ECE profession. A northern California study found that 76% of ECE staff members in centers surveyed in 1996 had left their jobs four years later, with approximately half having left the ECE field altogether. National annual turnover rates range from 20% to 40%; ECE staff turnover is high across all education levels.
Not only does turnover affect staff morale and workplace performance, it also has important ramifications for child development. Research has shown that young children benefit from being with well-trained, consistent staff in ECE settings, with whom they can form stable relationships. Well-trained staff members tend to provide nurturing, responsive care to the children they serve, facilitating children’s positive cognitive, social, and emotional development, and making for a higher quality ECE environment.
Recent research provides evidence supporting the link between improved compensation and retention. A study of staffing patterns at 75 ECE centers revealed that teachers identified low pay as the primary reason they were leaving the field.
In light of research documenting the linkages among compensation, training, quality care, staff retention, and child development on the one hand, and public interest in the provision of ECE on the other, responses aimed at mitigating the staffing problem in the ECE field have focused strategies to improve retention among staff and raise awareness regarding the role of compensation in enhancing quality. Programs launched in California provide examples of such an approach, where, over the last three years, 42 counties have initiated childcare retention incentive (CRI) programs, designed to reduce turnover and retain ECE professionals by providing monetary stipends to individuals who meet certain tenure and continuing education requirements.
The programs are funded largely by monies allocated through the state’s Proposition 10, a voter initiative which taxes cigarettes and is administered by First 5 California Children and Families Commission (First 5 California), and AB 212, a state bill earmarking funds for childcare staff retention programs in centers subsidized by the State Department of Education. San Francisco also receives funding locally, through the Department of Children, Youth, and Their Families (DCYF). Administered on a county level, these CRI programs allow for the implementation of plans addressing the particular problems facing local ECE communities. While First 5 California establishes standards and criteria for some aspects of the CRI programs, each county maintains its own First 5 Commission, usually comprised of local policymakers, advocates, stakeholders, and practitioners, which is responsible for funding and partial oversight of the program.
Two of the first programs of this kind in California were undertaken by Alameda and San Francisco counties. In Alameda, this effort was called the Alameda Child Development Corps (Alameda CDC or Corps), while in San Francisco, the program was known as San Francisco CARES (SF CARES). First 5 California funded PACE to evaluate these counties’ initiatives over a two-year period. The PACE evaluation consists of a quantitative component focusing on program effects measured in terms of retention and professional development, and a qualitative study that examines how the programs have been implemented; in addition, a cost analysis was conducted to investigate and determine the costs associated with increasing retention and training among staff in each of the counties.
This policy brief is based on the qualitative component of the evaluation, and is meant to report on and summarize the most salient findings regarding the implementation of the programs in Alameda and San Francisco counties in their second year of operation, as well as to offer a view across the counties and compare certain aspects of their programs. The purpose of this brief is to highlight themes particularly relevant to Year 2 of these CRI programs; it builds on the Year 1 report. Additionally, some demographic data are included to provide the context in which implementation occurred.