Blog

As our lives are rocked by the repercussions of COVID-19, children are learning at home, relationships are disrupted and parents are juggling parenting and work. Many parents are working from home. Others must leave home to keep their jobs. Access to quality, affordable child care is a necessity for employees and employers. In this three-part series, we are focusing on the critical role of Early Care and Education (ECE) in creating safe, stable, nurturing relationships and environments to prevent child maltreatment and strengthen families.

Right now, ECE educators and programs are under stress. Families with young children are stressed. Assuring the stability of our ECE system is essential so North Carolina can get back to business and families can thrive.

We all have a role to play in assuring safe, stable, nurturing environments for our children—policymakers, business leaders and community members—to assure our children thrive and we build a foundation for their future success. Investing in a sustainable, quality ECE system is fundamental to our society. It is good for kids. It is good for parents. It is good for business.  That is a winning equation that will have a great return on investment post-pandemic and beyond.

Part 1 – What is ECE and Why Should We Invest in it?

Early Care and Education (ECE), often called child care, includes settings in which children are cared for and taught by people other than their parents or primary caregivers with whom they live. It is foundational for a prosperous society. It serves many vital functions: an educational institution building young children’s developing brains; a caring place for children to develop social and emotional skills; a primary child maltreatment prevention system; a vital workforce support; and an economic driver.

ECE is a complex system of care and education that supports children’s well-being. Positive interactions are the foundation of healthy brain development, particularly in the first three years of life when 80 percent of brain growth happens. Quality ECE by a workforce educated in child development fosters caring relationships for children which increase their ability to thrive, adapt and learn into adulthood. 

ECE is also a foundational support system for our workforce and economic development. Corporations, small businesses and community-based organizations need employees with secure child care and school arrangements to stabilize our economy. Employees depend on quality care for their children while they work. As ECE programs struggle to stay open during the pandemic, the lack of care impacts child well-being, family financial security and economic recovery.

This blog is also published by Prevent Child Abuse North Carolina.

Prevent Child Abuse North Carolina (PCANC) is the leading statewide nonprofit organization dedicated to preventing child abuse and neglect. Through collaboration with partners, PCANC ensures that prevention is a priority for North Carolina and all communities have the knowledge, support, and resources to prevent child abuse and neglect. PCANC is the North Carolina chapter of Prevent Child Abuse America.

By Allory Bors, Research Coordinator at CCSA

Our last post in the series ended with two questions for providers: “How can we best care for you?” and “How are you caring for yourself?” Inspired by these questions, this post discusses the difference between self-care and community care, and why understanding this difference is key to the long term survival of the early childhood system.

Activism to decrease the stigma surrounding mental illness and growing awareness of how toxic stress builds up in the body have made “self-care” a hot button topic. A glance at Google search term analytics shows that, starting around the beginning of 2016, the phrase took off in popularity, peaking in April 2020. Google trends also considers the phrase “self-care plan” as a breakout term, meaning the phrase had a “tremendous increase” in searches compared to little to no searches a few years ago.

Many researchers and early childhood advocates are focused on the mental health impacts of the pandemic for young children, as the first three years of life are so crucial to development. As a field, however, we must pay equal attention to providers. Trauma begets trauma, and child care providers cannot pour from an empty cup.

Research shows that the pandemic is changing our brain function. When the body is under the constant stress of trying to keep ourselves and others safe, the prefrontal cortex, the part of our brain responsible for complex decision making, shuts down. Cortisol, the stress hormone, is released in the body to activate both our learned and instinctual responses to threats. When we are stuck in this activated state for long periods of time, it diminishes our ability to think abstractly, to empathize and to complete tasks like planning, paperwork, writing and organization.

Paradoxically, all of these activities are even more necessary as the school year begins, as some providers reopen, others adapt to virtual learning and their school age children returning, and providers try to mitigate added risk as children move between various environments where they may be exposed to the virus.

Care providers and the people who in turn care for them are also impacted by “compassion fatigue.” You may have heard of the compassion fatigue phenomenon as it applies to supporting a grieving loved one. Often times, a bereaved person receives care and attention from their community shortly following the traumatic event, but support drops off over time. This means that as the pandemic continues, providers will struggle to provide the same quality of supportive interactions with young children, and also struggle to receive the support they deserve.

Indeed, as the adrenaline of the early pandemic fades and exhaustion sets in, child care providers need more support, not less. This, and the hindrance to brain function caused by unprecedented stress, can make self-care practices such as mindfulness, journaling or establishing routine more difficult to practice.

Thus, calls to prioritize “self-care,” though very important, can sometimes invalidate people who are struggling to care for themselves and need community to step in. Community care acknowledges the interdependence of us all – a lesson more and more of us have remembered again when it comes to child care in the pandemic. The nervous system is soothed by the co-regulation that occurs in community, which in turn helps each individual to self-regulate.

So, what would a robust system of community care look like? We often hear about talk therapy as a first line response to mental health crisis. Yet, a large percentage of providers have no health insurance, so therapy is not affordable. Peer support specialists, often serving in local health departments, may be a promising option to meet increased need. Peer support specialists also have personal experience recovering from mental illness or addiction, and are therefore able to provide horizontal, rather than the top-down support other mental health professionals provide, which can sometimes feel impersonal.

For family child care providers, FCC networks also provide connections with peers, can help centralize or provide systems for completing paperwork and offer services like training and technical assistance. Many counties have child care directors meetings with Child Care Resource and Referral staff as additional support. Currently, special initiatives like the North Carolina Hope4Healers Helpline (1-919-226-2002) are connecting frontline workers to licensed mental health professionals. Advocating for increased funding for resources of this kind is one way to practice community care.

Of course, community care also means fighting against the injustices that keep providers struggling for survival, rather than thriving. A thriving workforce is one with access to fair wages, comprehensive benefits, quality working conditions and freedom from racial and gender-based violence and discrimination.

Are you a child care provider? How can the community show up for you as we move into the school year? Write to us here.

By Marsha Basloe, CCSA President

Since March 14 when all public schools across North Carolina were closed for in-person instruction, along with most Head Start programs, families with young children throughout the state have struggled to keep their families safe from COVID-19 exposure and illness, balance jobs and caregiving responsibilities, as well as support remote learning to the extent offered and possible. 

These challenges were made more difficult as the pandemic months wore on, which were hard for the wealthiest of families let alone those families who struggled to find and afford child care, who lost jobs or had a reduction in income or lacked access to the internet or technology such as a laptop or tablet to help support their children’s “remote learning.” It’s no wonder there has been a significant increase in anxiety, stress and depression.[1]

This week, the NC Division of Child Development and Early Education (DCDEE) released new guidance for NC Pre-K programs operating this fall.[2] DCDEE strongly encourages NC Pre-K programs to prioritize having students physically present in Pre-K classrooms for the 2020-2021 school year.[3] Why? Because children learn best in-person –­­ not through screen-time. Programs will operate for a full 36 weeks as usual, 6.5 hours per day, 5 days per week, beginning no later than September 8.

The goals are clear[4]:

  • All NC Pre-K students receive the benefit of fully in-person instruction to the fullest extent possible.
  • All parents/guardians are offered the option of in-person instruction for the full program year.
  • Remote learning will be available for NC Pre-K students as a last resort and used as sparingly as possible.

Because many NC Pre-K classrooms are operated in community-based child care centers, it is possible to operate NC Pre-K classrooms even while public schools are closed or switch to a hybrid model where Group A may attend two days per week and Group B may attend another two days in that week. Because child care centers are typically much smaller settings compared to public elementary schools and because pre-K classrooms generally have fewer students per class than the average K-6 classroom in public schools, pre-K operating within child care centers makes sense as an option for those parents who select it. Unlike public school attendance, participation in NC Pre-K is voluntarily selected by parents.

What we know is that COVID-19 took us all by surprise this spring.

Public schools and NC Pre-K shifted to remote learning in a heroic effort to promote continued learning while facilities were closed. At the same time, despite those heroic efforts, remote learning was at best an experiment. Little is known about its effectiveness. And, effectiveness compared to what – compared to onsite instruction? Compared to the absence of any learning packets, phone calls, texts or online engagement? What we do know is that remote learning is not the best format for 4 year-olds. There is no 4 year-old who can engage in remote learning without the support of an onsite parent or guardian. And, whether or not 4 year-olds are home with an older sibling while parents work, or have parents or grandparents who are not otherwise working or caring for other children so that they can devote the specific, individual time needed to support their 4 year-old’s remote learning is a real question. Unanswered to date.

In July, Duke University’s Center for Child & Family Policy released the results of a statewide survey of NC Pre-K lead and assistant teachers.[5] On average, lead and assistant teachers reported that the highest percentage of children in their classrooms received remote learning services weekly – 58 percent of children reported by lead teachers and 62 percent of children reported by assistant teachers.[6]

Unlike the daily onsite NC Pre-K program of 6.5 hours, only one-third of children reported by lead teachers received daily remote learning services (27 percent of children reported by assistant teachers received daily remote learning services).[7]

When asked about remote learning strategies most often used, in declining order by most often used were: phone calls and texting at #1, learning or activity packets at #2, email at #3 and Zoom and ClassDojo at #4 (video connections).[8] Certainly, teachers are to be commended for their outreach efforts, but at the same time, these efforts are really not comparable to the 6.5-hour regular onsite program.

Duke’s study also reported teachers’ perceptions on the greatest barriers to family engagement with remote learning. Time to engage with remote learning was rated as the largest barrier to family engagement (43 percent reported by lead teachers, 45 percent reported by assistant teachers), followed by reliable access to technology (22 percent reported by lead teachers, 23 percent reported by assistant teachers), reliable internet access (16 percent reported by lead teachers, 21 percent reported by assistant teachers) and some other barrier (19 percent reported by lead teachers, 11 percent reported by assistant teachers).[9]

Were there lessons learned from the remote learning experience from this past spring?

Yes. And, many are reflected in extra training and supports for NC Pre-K staff in the coming year. Yet, the biggest takeaway is that remote learning is still an experiment. And, that’s why it makes sense that the new DCDEE guidance emphasizes a priority for in-person NC Pre-K classrooms to the extent possible.

The most recent data shows 2,689 child care centers open throughout North Carolina.[10] On average, child care centers show enrollment of about 53 percent.[11] This means that many could have additional space to support pre-K classrooms should they be inclined to partner within their community to offer NC Pre-K. Statewide, more than 100,000 children are in licensed child care.[12] These children are in programs following public health safety and social distancing guidelines.

Existing research pertaining to online learning for K-12 students raises serious questions about remote learning effectiveness.[13],[14] A National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) study related to public pre-K students this spring found that only 23 percent of children previously served in public pre-K programs (pre-COVID-19) continued to receive meals and nutritious snacks.[15] Nearly one-quarter of public pre-K students with disabilities received no support and about 40 percent of pre-K students with disabilities received only partial support.[16] 

Given what we know about the school readiness gaps by income, by race, by ethnicity and the limited but questionable effectiveness of remote learning for 4 year-old children, DCDEE’s guidance recommending prioritizing in-person NC Pre-K instruction makes sense. With child care centers open and adhering to public health guidance on social distancing and experience serving the children of essential personnel this spring, it makes sense to give parents the option of enrolling children for onsite instruction this fall. There will be families who decide the onsite option is not for them. There could very well also be families who see the availability of onsite instruction as an opportunity for their children.

Utilizing child care centers as community partners makes sense. They are open for child care. It seems inconsistent to say that they can offer child care but not NC Pre-K. Local communities will be deciding soon. Decisions about onsite pre-K classrooms should not be linked to the operating status of public schools but whether capacity exists within community-based child care programs to safely follow Department of Public Health guidance to offer both child care and public pre-K. Children and working families depend on it.


[1] U.S. Census Bureau Household Pulse Survey, Week 12, July 16-July 21, 2020.
[2] NC Division of Child Development and Early Education (DCDEE), Interim COVID-19 Reopening Policies for NC Pre-K Programs, August 3, 2020.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Duke University, Center for Child & Family Policy, The North Carolina Pre-Kindergarten Program and Remote Learning Services During the COVID-19 Pandemic: Findings from a Statewide Survey of Teachers, July 2020.
[6] Ibid.
[7] Ibid.
[8] Ibid.
[9] Ibid.
[10] Child Care Resources Inc. (CCRI), July 2020.
[11] DCDEE, July 2020.
[12] DCDEE, July 2020.
[13] Molnar, A., Miron, G., Elgeberi, N.,  Barbour, M.K., Huerta, L., Shafer, S.R., Rice, J.K. (2019). Virtual Schools in the U.S. 2019. Boulder, CO: National Education Policy Center.
[14] OECD (2015), Students, Computers and Learning: Making the Connection, PISA, OECD Publishing.
[15] National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER), Young Children’s Home Learning and Preschool Participation Experiences During the Pandemic, NIEER 2020 Preschool Learning Activities Survey: Technical Report and Selected Findings, July 2020.
[16] Ibid.

By Marsha Basloe, CCSA President, and Jennifer Gioia, CCSA Communications Manager

“Child care has quietly been the backbone of our communities and economy, but the recent COVID-19 pandemic has exposed just how critical access to child care is for the functioning of our country. As we consider policies that can get the economy running again and reexamine how our federal, state, and local budgets reflect our priorities, it’s increasingly clear we must build a strong, resilient child care infrastructure that can support our families and the economy.”1

I bet you thought I wrote that. I didn’t.5

That paragraph was written by millennials at Next100 and GenForward. Millennials, now in their 20s and early 30s, are the largest generation in the U.S. workforce, making up roughly 35 percent of workers, and are soon to be the largest generation in the American electorate. Millennial women account for the vast majority of U.S. births,1 but many are delaying childbirth well into their 30s. And millennials are the most educated group in history; 61 percent are college graduates compared to 46 percent of baby boomers.2

It’s no leap to assume that same dedication to education would extend to their children. For millennial parents, child care isn’t just a service to get parents to work, but one that also helps children with school. Millennial parents aren’t just thinking about care, they’re thinking about learning.2

As revealed in a ground-breaking new survey from Next100 and GenForward, when weighing the decision to have children, access to affordable, high-quality child care actually plays a bigger role with millenials and Gen Zers (people ages 18 to 36) than student loan debt. Nearly nine out of 10 millennials and Gen Zers say the cost of child care is very or somewhat important in deciding whether or not to have children, according to the survey.4

Other survey results found the lack of affordable child care, alongside student loan debt and lack of affordable housing, affects the next generation’s decision to have children, further influencing their career and professional decisions.1 Overall, 81 percent of millennials and Gen Zers believe access to affordable high-quality child care is an important issue.4

Millennials Face Barriers When Starting a Family

Melinda is a millennial with a bachelor’s degree. Her student loan debt and the cost of child care are part of the reason she and her spouse haven’t had children yet. Another millennial, Jessica, is the mother of a 9-year-old. The high cost of child care forced Jessica to come up with a plan for care before having her daughter and has been a major factor in delaying a second child. With two post-secondary degrees and student loan debt, an increase in rent and a hope to buy a home, Jessica said the financial burden of child care worries her.

“Even now, when I only have to worry about before and after school care, it’s a significant part of my monthly budget, and any increase in that cost could render me unable to utilize before and after school care at all,” said Jessica.

Like many other millennials, once Jessica knew she wanted to have a child, her career and professional goals changed. “I actually switched my educational and career trajectory altogether and pursued an AAS in ECE and began working at a licensed child care facility in order to qualify for discounted child care. If I hadn’t, I have no doubt that I would not have been able to afford to work outside the home at all, and working at home was not an option at the time.”

Melinda is also seeing firsthand this trend of child care costs deterring millennials from starting or growing their families. “In my family and friends, I noticed that those around my age either haven’t started a family yet or they only have maybe one child,” she said. “But those that are like 10, 15 years older than us have multiple children.”

This support for child care comprises a multiracial coalition that crosses traditional ideological differences, even among those without children.  

Millennials are sending a clear signal that access to child care is a pivotal public policy issue that not only affects the economy but also shapes personal decisions around when—or whether—future generations have children.1

The Unaffordability of Child Care

The COVID-19 pandemic has shown us the true importance of accessible and affordable high-quality child care for families and our economy. Even before COVID-19, the cost of child care for millennials was unaffordable nationwide. According to Child Care Aware of America, the annual cost of center-based infant care cost millennials more than half of their median salary in 2019.3

In North Carolina, based on the yearly millennial median income of $20,966, 44 percent of that is spent on an infant in center-based child care and 82 percent of that is spent on an infant and a 4-year-old in center-based child care.3

Future Generations

For two generations that have been affected by recessions, precarious employment, stagnant wages and high student loan debt, the cost of child care represents yet one more financial burden. These survey results show the next generation already deeply understands the challenge we are facing.1

The child care system we had before COVID-19 wasn’t sustainable, and it won’t be there after COVID-19 if we don’t do anything about it. Our federal and state governments can help this generation and our future generations by rethinking public investment in paying for child care. It can no longer happen on the backs of young parents. Otherwise, after COVID-19, the United States might have fewer future generations having children and fewer future generations in the workforce for the ones that will have children. Strengthening the child care system strengthens the backbone of our communities and economy.


[1] https://thenext100.org/millennials-and-gen-z-want-affordable-child-care/

[2] https://www.brighthorizons.com/employer-resources/millennial-parents

[3] https://www.childcareaware.org/millennial-map/

[4] https://www.cnbc.com/2020/07/23/87-percent-young-adults-say-child-care-costs-impact-the-decision-to-have-kids.html

[5] Marsha Basloe is not a millennial. Jennifer Gioia is a millennial.

By Allory Bors, Research Coordinator at CCSA

Doris Gardner (pictured) is a family child care provider from Harnett County, North Carolina, with more than 20 years of early childhood experience and a master’s degree in early childhood education. She wrote to us in April after being denied a forgivable loan from the Paycheck Protection Program that would have helped her make up for lost revenue and afford cleaning supplies.

“I chose to stay open, not because of the money,” Doris said. “I already had lost my private pay, but because I love what I do and my parents value me and my children need me. COVID-19 is not the time for children to be thrown into a new environment, if possible.”

Indeed, child mental health experts suggest that consistent and supportive relationships are one of the most important factors for minimizing young children’s stress responses to the pandemic. Predictability offers emotional protection during a time when young children are more likely to develop anxiety, sleeping problems, depression or unusual behaviors. But, predictability is difficult to maintain when some child care family homes and centers don’t have the resources they need to stay afloat.

Rose Alvarez, a child care provider and T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood® Scholarship recipient from Mebane, North Carolina, has been out of work since the end of March because her center had to close.

“The whole world is suffering because of the pandemic,” Rose said. “Sometimes, I sit and think of what I really want to do when things get back to ‘normal.’ Do I want to return to work or just stay home and be safe with my family because no one knows what ‘normal’ will be after this.”

Advocates have stressed that, for the vitality of the early childhood system in North Carolina, this “new normal” must be better than the state of things before the pandemic. COVID-19 has brought many pre-existing flaws in the early childhood system to the fore, including a lack of support for family child care providers. Family child care providers like Doris not only face the logistical challenges of being self-employed while applying for federal COVID-19 aid, home providers also receive a smaller amount of financial relief from state level DHHS grants as centers as it is based on numbers of children served.

“We operate like centers (curriculums, education, safety, etc.), have the same needs (materials, food, supplies, bills, etc.) and are held at the same standards,” Doris shared. “At the end of the day as an essential worker, putting my family as well as my [own] life on the line…I do not feel as if I am on the same playing field as [those] who have centers…My peers have shared my sentiments which is why some opt to close, and others are thinking of permanently closing.”

Luckily, Doris wrote us again in June, and said she was able to receive a small business loan, which is helping her continue to support her families, as well as a couple of new families who needed emergency care due to COVID-19. She and other home providers still face challenges. She worries about the impact of remote schooling on providers with school-age children, because of pre-pandemic limits on the amount of screen time children are allowed to have.

Rose is maintaining as well, working toward her associate degree and completing workshops from home, and trying out new recipes. Her center has reopened, so she is waiting for the child care ratio to increase to see if she will be needed back at work. Rose said, “All we can do is take care of ourselves…and our families near and far.”

Coping with the changes of COVID-19 and righting the wrongs in our early childhood system will not be easy, but it is how we care for all our families, near and far. One step CCSA is taking is our COVID-19 Child Care Relief Fund, which is now open for a second round of grant funding to North Carolina child care programs in need. Grants will range in amount from $1,000 to $5,000 depending on the magnitude of needs expressed, and the number of applicants awarded. Click here to apply by August 12, 2020, at 5:00 p.m.

If you are a child care provider, how can we best care for you? How are you caring for yourself? Write to us here if you would like to share your story, and have the chance to be featured in a future blog post.


Voices of Strength and Resilience in Early Childhood Blog Series

Introducing the Voices of Strength and Resilience in Early Childhood Series: What COVID-19 Teaches Us and What We Already Knew

Voices of Strength and Resilience in Early Childhood: Making Sense of March and April

Voices of Strength and Resilience in Early Childhood: The Trouble with “Heroism”

Voices of Strength and Resilience in Early Childhood: Unraveling May and June

To be continued…

By Sydney Frost, Communications Intern at CCSA

As the summer communications intern for Child Care Services Association, I’ve had the opportunity to talk with child care providers who are making a difference for children. Through this experience, I have learned how essential these providers are and how an asset-based approach of investing back into individuals can make a significant impact on an entire community during a challenging time. 

COVID-19 has left child care programs to operate in extreme circumstances while providing safe and loving care to children. Child care educators are serving children and families with dwindling supplies, limited personal protective gear and increased health and safety guidelines. The CCSA COVID-19 Relief Fund provides funding for child care programs struggling to meet the needs of essential workers and families returning to work. The funding will help programs get the tools and resources they need during this challenging time.

Felicia Klintensmith, the director at Pollocksville Presbyterian Child Care Center, a nonprofit child care center in Jones County,  received funding from CCSA’s COVID-19 Relief Fund. She has served the families that need child care during the pandemic, but her enrollment numbers decreased by nearly 50 percent and her center is dealing with increased costs for cleaning products.

“I personally want to see more funding for early childhood education and programs. I know the pre-K programs at the school get a lot of money, but I think the early childhood educators need more money also here at the centers,” Felicia said.

Many child care programs are struggling during this pandemic due to a shift in enrollment numbers and a decline in funding. Increased funding and support for early childhood educators are significant because if families can’t go back to work due to the lack of available child care, the economy can’t recover.

Stacey Myrick, the owner of Stacey’s Child Care, a family child care home in Halifax County, also received funding from CCSA’s COVID-19 Relief Fund and the T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood® Scholarship program. She said the most difficult part of dealing with the impact of COVID-19 has been keeping up with health and safety regulations. She has been paying for some virtual learning opportunities and additional cleaning supplies.

“It’s only me, so I receive my kids at the door with a mask on the whole time. By them being small, I don’t allow them to wear masks, but I have my mask on. When I receive them, I check their temperature as soon as they arrive and do a lot of handwashing,” Stacey said.

Child care programs have been instructed to follow a set of interim guidelines provided by the NC Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). These actions are intended to minimize the spread of COVID-19; however, some of the actions are not feasible due to the costs. Early childhood education needs more funding to survive this pandemic. 

As we saw during the state shutdown, child care is an essential service much like roads and bridges. We all depend on parents with young children who are hospital workers, grocery store workers, sanitation workers, etc. whether or not each one of us has a child. And, therefore, we all depend on child care, which is clearer now, given our experience with COVID-19.

Additional funding is also essential because child care programs offer a safe space for children during this challenging time. This year, in particular, it is especially important for children to have a sense of normalcy and happiness.

“I wanted my kids to feel like it’s their home away from home,” said Stacey. “It’s not like they can just come in, sit down and do ABC’s or write. Of course, we do all that, but I want them to feel as if they can do that on their own, not just me sitting down and monitoring them to do it.”

CCSA has always played a role in helping child care programs provide the highest quality early learning experience for our state’s youngest children. The CCSA COVID-19 Relief Fund Phase I was designed to provide small grants to child care centers and family child care homes in North Carolina. Funds were available to child care programs, such as Stacey’s and Felicia’s, that remained open and served the children of essential workers. For more information, visit www.childcareservices.org.

The CCSA COVID-19 Relief Fund is funded by the generosity of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina Foundation, the PNC Foundation, ChildTrust Foundation and Truist Charitable Fund as well as the many CCSA donors who contributed to the relief fund. Make a contribution today.

By Marsha Basloe, President of CCSA

There are many lessons learned from our ongoing experience with COVID-19, which continue to evolve to best promote the health and safety of North Carolina residents. One key take-away is the important role that child care plays as an essential service – to support essential personnel during our stay-at-home period and now to support both essential personnel and parents returning to work as the North Carolina economic recovery begins.

Pre-COVID, child care teaching staff throughout North Carolina earned about $10.97 per hour on average. Infant and toddler staff earned less – about $10 per hour.[1] Child care teaching staff who left the field reported pay as the number one reason for leaving their jobs.[2] The low pay of child care personnel is not new news. The Child Care Services Association has long documented the compensation challenges within the field through a series of reports over the last two decades.[3] But, what is new is the recent recognition of the need to compensate child care teaching staff better as front-line workers supporting all other workforces (as well as the healthy development of children).

In April, the NC Division of Child Development and Early Education (DCDEE) recognized the importance of the child care workforce and paid bonuses of $950 each per month for full-time teaching staff and $525 each per month for non-teaching staff.[4] Part-time employees received prorated amounts related to their hours.[5] Bonus payments were made for staff working onsite in April and May but ended in June.[6]  Programs that re-opened in May were eligible for prorated bonus payments.[7]

The intent of increasing compensation was to boost employee retention (and availability) at a time when child care was needed to support essential personnel. It was also a form of “hazard” pay recognizing that the likelihood of potential exposure to COVID-19 was greater for these workers. While it took a pandemic to increase compensation for the child care workforce, the implications are clear:

  • Child care pay is too low to retain the workforce to staff the needed supply of child care
  • As front-line workers, the child care workforce is more at risk of COVID exposure
  • Child care workers should be better compensated for the jobs that they perform

While many North Carolina businesses have re-opened, the situation on the ground for child care workers hasn’t changed. Parents returning to the workforce will need access to child care. The supply of child care depends on a stable and qualified child care workforce. There is no vaccine that has yet been approved and, therefore, child care workers remain on the front-lines at greater risk of COVID exposure (despite best efforts to comply with new health and safety requirements).

In the short-term, at a minimum, the bonus funding for child care workers should continue until there is an approved vaccine and North Carolina residents have been inoculated. They are heroes. The child care workforce is supporting all other workforces to ensure that North Carolina provides a needed onramp for parents to return to work. In the long-term, it’s time to rethink child care compensation, particularly for teaching staff who should be paid in a manner aligned with their credentials and experience.

Our experience with COVID offers all of us in the early childhood community an opportunity to re-envision child care in a post-COVID period. To say that the old system didn’t work well would be an understatement. Child care workers earned low wages, nearly half relied on some form of public assistance to support their families, and turnover was high.[8] I wrote a blog about child care compensation last November

Post-COVID, we should bring child care back better. We should use the interim period until a vaccine is developed and widely-used to identify ways to finance a high-quality child care system that appropriately pays the child care workforce aligned with achieved credentials or degrees in early childhood education such as an AA or BA in early childhood education or an infant/toddler certification.

Over the past few years, a group of early childhood advocates, service providers and state policymakers worked collaboratively to develop a recommended wage scale to better support child care teachers.[9] The challenge is to find a way to pay for it. Child care providers cannot be mandated to pay significantly higher wages, particularly at a time when their current economic model is in danger of collapse. Parents can’t pay more given the difficulty in affording current child care prices let alone the large increase in unemployment.

It is time to look at new ways to fund a child care wage scale. Everyone has a stake in the child care supply, which includes the workforce – whether individuals have a child or not. As witnessed during the state shutdown, child care is an essential service much like roads and bridges.  We all depend on parents with young children who are hospital workers, grocery store workers, sanitation workers, etc. whether or not each one of us has a child. And, therefore, we all depend on child care, which is more clear now given our experience with COVID.

Some of the options that could be considered involve Congress such as allocating funding to states to better pay the child care workforce. Other options involve the State Legislature considering ways to provide a publicly-funded wage scale for child care workers through the creation of new revenue strategies such as a state refundable workforce tax credit linked to professional development achievements or a publicly funded system of compensating early educators that could be funded through a state payroll surtax.

For example, employers and employees currently pay 6.2 percent of earnings up to $137,700, which is adjusted annually based on average wage growth. An increase of 0.5 percent could be added to the current tax (dedicated to a state child care workforce compensation fund). Another related strategy could be simply lifting the wage cap (e.g., to $1 million in income) with the increased revenue dedicated to a state child care workforce compensation fund. 

North Carolina is a leader in early childhood education. States often to look to us for innovative ideas. If a publicly-funded child care compensation strategy were to be developed, the collateral benefit would be a reduction in the cost of child care for families.

For example, currently the cost of personnel comprises about 70 percent of the typical operating budget for child care programs. If teaching staff were paid from a publicly-funded initiative, the fixed costs remaining for child care program operators would be significantly reduced, which means the cost of child care could be made more affordable for N.C. families – which translates to increased workforce participation. In this way, through financing innovation, we could address the top two challenges with child care: (1) low compensation for the workforce and (2) affordability for families.

It’s time to apply the lessons learned from COVID to potential solutions that serve our communities better – the child care workforce, all other workforces that depend on child care, children, working parents and employers. We can’t go back to the past that didn’t work well for anyone. Let’s roll up our sleeves and schedule some Zoom meetings to begin the conversation.


[1] Collaborating for Change in Compensation, NC Strategies.

[2] Child Care Services Association, Leaving the Classroom: Addressing the Crisis of NC’s Early Childhood Educator Turnover, February 2020.

[3] Child Care Services Association workforce compensation studies.

[4] NC Division of Child Development and Early Education (DCDEE), COVID-19 Child Care Payment Policies.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Child Care Services Association, 2015 North Carolina Child Care Workforce Report.

[9] Collaborating for Change in Compensation, NC Strategies.

By Allison Miller, VP of Compensation Initiatives at CCSA

When any teacher working with young children graduates with her/his Associate Degree in Early Childhood Education, it is cause for celebration. But when three teachers at the same child care program accomplish this at the same time, it is even more special. Yvette Garner, Tiffany Grace Pointer and Priscilla Rowell from Excel Christian Academy (ECA) in Alamance County did just that. They didn’t let financial struggles or the impact of COVID-19 stop them from achieving their educational goals. Congratulations!

All three teachers learned about their passion for early childhood at different points in their lives. Tiffany, for example, started teaching when she was quite young. She remembers lining up her stuffed animals, who were her very first students. They all agree that being able to impact the lives of children, seeing them grow and learn, kept them motivated to continue their education and that having the support of their director was critical to their success.

Yvette shared, “My Director, Davina Woods, and the whole staff at ECA encouraged me to go back to school. They were my support team. When I first started working there, everyone was enrolled in school and taking classes whether they were online or face to face. So, I enrolled at Alamance Community College and started off with one class at a time, until I became more comfortable with it. Their support encouraged me to keep moving forward to success.”

Priscilla said, “Mrs. Woods didn’t stop with just hiring me, she also opened my eyes for me to believe in myself and move toward what I knew I should be doing. At 60 years old, I did it and I am very proud of myself. Who knows what the next move will be?”

They also acknowledge the key roles that the T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood® Scholarship Program and the Child Care WAGE$® Program played in their educational journey.  According to Tiffany, she could not have obtained her degree without the scholarship assistance. “The T.E.A.C.H. scholarship has helped me by paying for my tuition and my books for school. Without them, I do not think I would have been able to get my degree,” said Tiffany.

Priscilla echoed that perspective, “There was a time when my rent was due and I needed to have work done on my car and had to make a choice of which one was more important. They both were and I didn’t know how I was going to make it work. That very day I received a check from T.E.A.C.H. All I can say was what a blessing T.E.A.C.H. was to me while I was in school and then because of me graduating, I was able to get a raise at my job. Thanks T.E.A.C.H!”

All three receive WAGE$ supplements and discuss the importance of this additional compensation. They use the supplements to meet basic needs, to catch up on bills, for car maintenance and to enhance their classrooms. Yvette also pointed out, “WAGE$ was the incentive to encourage me to keep moving forward in my degree, because each bonus I received made up for the hours missed at work.”

When COVID-19 really hit in North Carolina, many students had to make a quick transition from seated to online courses. Yvette was one of those.  She said, “I am excited to say with hard work and dedication, I was able to complete all of my classes and earned my degree.”

Priscilla completed her coursework in December, just prior to these changes. But COVID-19 took away her ability to celebrate like she had planned.  She shared, “If I had known Mrs. Corona was around the corner and was going to stop graduation, I would have celebrated in December. This lady was looking forward and was very proud to strut her stuff across the stage.”

CCSA’s WAGE$ and T.E.A.C.H. are also very proud of Yvette, Tiffany and Priscilla. We celebrate them and all the teachers who persevered through these challenging times to complete their coursework. We congratulate them on their success and thank them for the difference they make in the lives of the children and families they serve.

By Allory Bors, Research Coordinator at CCSA

One might argue that the events of the past six weeks have been among the most important in United States history. As we were beginning to grapple with the continued economic fallout of the pandemic and a resurgence of new COVID-19 cases in many states, we found ourselves amidst an unprecedented movement to end white supremacy and police brutality and affirm that Black Lives Matter. Now is the time to boldly demand more from our government, institutions and communities. Now is the time to confront the impacts of white supremacy and misogynoir on our early childhood field, and to have meaningful, anti-racist conversations with our young children.

Breonna Taylor’s death particularly hits home in our field. As an essential healthcare worker, Taylor worked long hours, much like many in our child care community – particularly home-based providers. Black women and women of color are overrepresented in care professions, which pay infamously low wages. Within these fields as well, a profound racial pay gap persists. Taylor was also just beginning to fill out paperwork to attend community college next fall, much like many of the scholars our T.E.A.C.H. program supports. Many in our field are first-generation college students who work toward degrees by working and taking community college classes part-time.

Racism is a driving force that causes the underfunding and undervaluing of the early childhood field as a whole. Justice for the child care field can only be fully realized by putting an end to white supremacy, and we must give our full attention to racial equity in our industry. In response to these unjust killings, protestors are calling for reallocation of funding from police departments to social services, including child care. Advocates in the early childhood field are writing about how to talk to young children about race, how to support young children through racial trauma and how to address systemic discrimination and harm within our field.

How have you experienced or witnessed racism in the early childhood field? Do you have thoughts about how we can create anti-racist child care communities? Please write to us here to continue the conversation.

Below you will find some highlights from our COVID-19 timeline of May and June. Click here to view the full timeline.

North Carolina COVID-19 May and June 2020 Timeline Highlights

May 1The first deadline for child care providers to apply for CCSA’s COVID-19 Relief Fund, payments to be disbursed in June.
May 4Unemployment claims in North Carolina reach 1 million, which is 20% of the state’s workforce. So far, N.C. has made $1.27 billion in payments toward unemployment. Problems with the system persist, but since April 17 federal stimulus unemployment has been going into effect.
May 8Governor Cooper announces Phase 1 of the reopening plan.
May 11As of May 11, all child care programs are licensed to reopen upon approval of an application.
May 13The House of Representatives passes the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Act, or HEROES Act, the next proposed stimulus relief package. Though the bill would provide some major relief for families, renters and citizens with student loans, it falls short for the child care field.
May 14DCDEE announces new operational grants will be provided for child care facilities open in some or all of April, May and June to help cover losses from parent fees due to low enrollment.  
May 21Boston Consulting Group releases survey conducted in five countries including the U.S., which finds the bulk of household labor is falling to women, who are spending an average of 15 hours more than men on domestic work.
May 22North Carolina enters Phase 2 of the “Safer at Home” reopening plan. Despite this, the day after reopening, the state experienced the biggest single-day spike in cases since the beginning of the pandemic.
May 25White Minnesota police officer Derek Chauvin kills George Floyd, a Black security officer, father and Minneapolis community member. In response to Floyd’s death and the murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, Titi Gulley and countless others, protests erupt in every single state in the U.S.   Born in Fayetteville, North Carolina, George Floyd is survived by his three children. His six-year-old daughter, Gianna, can be seen speaking about her father in this video.

Here and here are some resources for talking to young children about racism and police violence. The National Black Child Development Institute has a list of resources on helping children cope with racial trauma.
May 27House Representatives Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), Bobby Scott (VA) and Patty Murray (D-WA) propose the Child Care is Essential Act, which would provide $50 billion in funding to stabilize and support the child care field.
First Two Weeks of JuneAfter reviewing more than 1,000 applications in May, CCSA begins notifying recipients and releasing funds as a part of the CCSA COVID-19 Relief Fund.
June 4The Payroll Protection Program is revised, so that borrowers have more flexibility in how they can use the loan, and the likelihood that they will receive full loan forgiveness is increased.
June 14In celebration of Pride Month and in mourning of the recent murders of Dominique “Rem’mie” Fells, Riah Milton and Tony McDade, thousands rally outside the Brooklyn Museum in New York for Black trans lives. In North Carolina, the recent murders of three Black trans women – Monika Diamond, Chanel Scurlock and Keyiariah Quick – are still fresh. Being trauma-informed and treating Black LGBTQIA+ providers and young children with the utmost respect and dignity is one way the early childhood field can respond to this violence. The NAEYC has provided the following resource, titled “Embracing LGBTQIA+ Staff in Early Childhood Programs.”  
June 15NCDHHS publishes updated Interim Guidance for Child Care Settings, which outlines updated health and safety procedures based on continuing the reopening process, and increased knowledge about COVID-19.
Week of June 22Nearly four months after the first case in North Carolina, there have been a total of 53,840 cases, with 1,250 deaths.

Voices of Strength and Resilience in Early Childhood Blog Series

Introducing the Voices of Strength and Resilience in Early Childhood Series: What COVID-19 Teaches Us and What We Already Knew

Voices of Strength and Resilience in Early Childhood: Making Sense of March and April

Voices of Strength and Resilience in Early Childhood: The Trouble with “Heroism”

Voices of Strength and Resilience in Early Childhood: Providers Need Support to Cope with an Ever-Changing COVID-19 Reality

To be continued…

When Chris Tryon, who operates a five-star family child care home in Union County, learned that Infant-Toddler Educator AWARD$® would be available to him and other home-based professionals, he was very excited.

He said, “I was all for it! We spend so much money keeping our programs going and meeting high standards, and I have five stars. AWARD$ would help because I could upgrade my facility, furniture, toys, get a nicer playset. I would reinvest it in my home program and my kids!”

Chris’ first check was mailed at the end of February, just before the COVID-19 pandemic hit hard in North Carolina. Now, as with other early educators in the state, Chris is struggling through this new reality.  His regular parents were not considered essential, so they stayed home with their own children. He is now* open for essential workers and says he wants to help if he can, but he has not yet had many children.

Chris wonders what will happen in the future if the children he has served will return. He said they’ve become like his family. His mother always worked with children so he found it natural to do so. He started working when he was young at a child recreation center and kept going from there. When he moved to North Carolina, he started working in a child care center and then opened his own home in 2009.

He said, “The best part of having my own program is that I really get to know the families I serve. I can really share with them about what is happening with their children. Children often stay with me until they go to kindergarten, and I give them stability and familiarity.”

“Being a man in this industry can be challenging,” Chris said. “People who don’t know me tend to think I may not know what I’m doing. They get a little nervous about it. Others embrace it. I tell them it is my profession and I have a lot of experience. My friends call me ‘Gary Poppins,’ and I can embrace that. I can be a positive male role model.”

Chris looks forward to sharing his skills with more families and appreciates that the AWARD$ supplements will continue to offer some support during the COVID-19 crisis.

“My first check was like winning the lottery,” he said.  “Now, knowing that it is coming is wonderful because who knows how long this is going to last? Knowing that I have that cushion means a lot. I really want to thank the Division of Child Development and Early Education for helping out family child care providers.”

The NC Division of Child Development and Early Education funds the Infant-Toddler Educator AWARD$® program in all 100 counties of North Carolina. Learn more about AWARD$ here.

*Interview took place in April, 2020.