In 2016, the Institute of Medicine and National Research Council released a report that outlined 13 recommendations to ensure optimal development of children birth through age 8. “Transforming the Workforce for Children Birth Through Age 8: A Unifying Foundation” highlights the need to redefine the qualifications and standards of care for young children.
Of these recommendations, improving professional learning and practice of the early childhood workforce is central. Significant investment, commitment and concerted effort is needed to strengthen our local system to raise the quality of early childhood experiences for the youngest citizens of our community.
Because child care is not publicly funded like our public school system, teacher education and compensation is much lower than the K-12 system, while the cost falls to the family. However, research shows high-quality early childhood experiences improve longterm educational outcomes for children. A partnership between the Children’s Council and the county has led to the vision of a locally subsidized system that rewards early childhood centers that meet locally determined education and compensation requirements.
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 struggle to make ends meet for their own families.
Local leaders have been working to develop a solution that increases compensation of local teachers without passing the cost along to working families. 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 longterm 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 government 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 (828) 262-5424.