In Watauga County, like many places in the country, the cost of child care is one of the largest expenses in a family’s budget. Full-time child care for an infant is greater than the cost of tuition at Appalachian State University. Even with the climbing costs, early childhood teachers continue to make an average of $9.50 per hour and many struggle to make ends meet for their own families. We know that the early years are some of the most critical for brain development, and the presence of warm, nurturing and supportive caregiving is necessary for children to grow and thrive.
Over the past year, over 30 community leaders have come together to imagine a different possibility for the families in Watauga County. Local leaders have been working to develop a solution that increases compensation of local teachers without passing the cost along to working families while also increasing the quality of early childhood settings across the country. Just this past December, the county commissioners unanimously passed a resolution to promote investments in young children and families from prenatal to age 3.
The Children’s Council has recently launched a local accreditation program for child care centers that want to increase the quality of their programs and are willing to increase the education requirements and the compensation for their lead teachers. Accreditation by the Children’s Council is a prestigious accomplishment that provides high-quality trainings, mentoring and professional development along with financial rewards to Watauga County early childhood programs that meet the standards and criteria set forth by the Children’s Council. The Children’s Council Accreditation Program offers a consistent and shared understanding of a high-quality early learning environment. These environments not only serve to provide children with the immediate benefits of educated teachers and nurturing experiences, but have a direct impact on long-term positive outcomes as well. Research now shows us that these early, high-quality experiences directly lead to individuals seeking higher education, healthy lifestyles and successful careers.
In order to support local centers towards meeting these standards, the Pathways to Accreditation program was created. In the first year of the program, five private child care centers, three family child care homes, and six NC Pre-K classrooms participated, affecting 361 children in Watauga County. Over 35 teachers are part of this year’s cohort focused on increasing quality in early childhood classrooms across the county. One teacher said, “Each time I attend the Pathways class I always leave with new information to include or expand our learning environment. Thank you for this class! A lot of learning is happening!” This program is free to participating centers thanks to funding from Watauga County, Smart Start and the Child Care Services Association.
Building a high-quality, early childhood system that works for all families is a primary goal of the local National Collaborative for Infants and Toddlers. Watauga County is one of 29 communities across the country to join NCIT. Funded through the Pritzker Children’s Initiative, NCIT brings together national partners, early childhood leaders, philanthropy, policymakers and practitioners inside and outside state and local governments to create and strengthen promising policies and programs, and share what works, so that more states and communities can support the healthy development of our youngest children.
To learn more about this initiative, or to get involved in local efforts, contact Crystal Kelly, Pritzker Fellow and Director of Strategic Initiatives at the Children’s Council, at (828) 262-5424.
Established in 1977, the Children’s Council of Watauga County Inc. builds upon the strengths of children, families and educators by investing resources, information and training toward promoting the future health and success of our greatest community asset: Our Children. All of the programs, from prenatal to age 12, concentrate on child development to prepare children to be ready to succeed in school. Through family support, early literacy programs, child care technical assistance & professional development, and community outreach and collaboration we focus on the importance of each child. We are committed to our vision of a community where every child has the support to live a healthy, happy life. We work to build a strong foundation for children’s learning and development by strengthening families, the early childhood system, and the wider community.