The Administration for Children and Families is launching a $30 million Early Care and Education Workforce Center to help states bolster and diversify their child care and preschool workforce.
Research organization Child Trends was selected to run the center, along with partner organizations including the Center for the Study of Child Care Employment, BUILD Initiative, ZERO TO THREE, the University of Massachusetts-Boston, and the University of Delaware.
The center will focus on research and technical support to improve retention and recruitment for this vital workforce sector that was decimated by the pandemic.
The industry has lost 7.5% of its workforce since 2020, according to a press release from the Department of Health and Human Services. Thousands of child care centers permanently closed, crippled by staff shortages, declining enrollment and safety protocols that proved both costly and logistically challenging.
The economic crush of the pandemic also laid bare long-standing issues in the industry, such as an inability to support a living wage for workers. This workforce is among the lowest-paid in the country, “despite the skills and expertise they possess to successfully support the development of young children,” the press release states.
“We cannot continue to expect early educators to remain in these critical roles only to earn poverty wages,” January Contreras, assistant secretary for the Administration for Children and Families, said in the press release. “The National Early Care and Education Workforce Center will help states and localities support early care and education professionals — and, in doing so, support working families.”
On the flip side, families across the country struggle to find affordable child care and preschool. In some regions, early childhood education costs as much as or more than university tuition.
Access to early child care has become a stronger focal point in the child welfare field as advocates and policymakers discuss how the lack of material support for parents can lead to reports of maltreatment. Research has also suggested that enrollment in Head Start programs lowers the odds of foster care removals for children known to the child welfare system. About a decade ago, Los Angeles County designed a system that enabled caseworkers to quickly enroll children into Head Start after a case was opened.
The Biden administration has made addressing this conundrum a policy priority. Biden’s Build Back Better bill, which failed to gain enough support in Congress, aimed to provide universal preschool for all 3- and 4-year-olds and cap child care costs at 7% of income for most families.
The goals of the new center will be to develop a career pipeline for the industry that focuses on diversity and supports workers’ pursuit of degrees and credentials, while also strategizing ways to increase compensation for child care professionals.
The center is one of several investments HHS is making in the child care and preschool sector — in January, the department announced nearly $300 million in “Preschool Development Grants Birth Through Five” to help 42 states bolster their array of services.