Local Leaders Take on Tough Issues to Support the Early Childhood Workforce

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Giving proper support to the people who care for young children is really a matter of infrastructure in any city – and city leaders should treat it with that level of importance. Here are five key takeaways from the Early Childhood Workforce meeting that occurred in Washington, D.C. earlier this month.

ohort members from Kansas City discuss education at the Early Childhood Workforce Cross Site Meeting hosted by NLC. Throughout the meeting, city leaders had rich and informative discussions with one another and shared insights, best practices, and solutions to tricky challenges. (photo: NLC)
Cohort members from Kansas City discuss education at the Early Childhood Workforce Cross Site Meeting hosted by NLC. Throughout the meeting, city leaders had rich and informative discussions with one another and shared insights, best practices, and solutions to tricky challenges. (photo: NLC)

Leaders from seven cities joined the National League of Cities (NLC) in Washington, D.C. earlier this month to kick off the Institute for Youth, Education, and Families’ Cities Supporting the Early Childhood Workforce initiative. These local leaders, along with experts from NLC and its partner organizations, explored ways to support and transform the early childhood workforce in their communities, as well as the challenges they may face.

Local officials from Hartford, Connecticut; Jacksonville, Florida; Kansas City, Missouri; San Francisco; Rochester, New York; Richmond, Virginia; and Seattle engaged in rich and informative discussions with Winona Hao, program manager at the National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE), and Kat Kempe, senior director for professional recognition and advancement at the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), which are both partnering with NLC in the initiative.

Here are five key takeaways from the meeting:

  • Cities are leading the way with innovative methods of supporting the professionals that care for our cities’ youngest residents. The Jacksonville Children’s Commission coordinates a network of local agencies to provide coaching services to staff in local child care centers. In Richmond, the Office of Community Wealth Building is using a poverty reduction lens to tackle early childhood issues, which includes bringing the voices of those living in impoverished communities to the forefront of the decision-making process. These are just two of the many efforts cities are already undertaking to make sure early childhood professionals have the supports they need.
  • Low salaries for most early childhood workers is a persistent problem that must be addressed in any efforts to support this workforce. Caitlin McLean, workforce research specialist at the Center for the Study of Child Care Employment (CSCCE) at the University of California at Berkeley, presented CSCEE’s robust collection of data that tracks conditions and policies for the early childhood workforce in each state. McLean shared strategies localities have used to address compensation, such as wage supplements and salary parity for pre-k teachers.
  • The early childhood workforce is infrastructure (and other tips to effectively talk about the value of the early childhood workforce). Sherry Cleary, executive director of the New York Early Childhood Professional Development Institute, shared effective messaging strategies in communicating the importance of supporting the early childhood workforce with key policymakers and other stakeholders. Cleary explained that giving the proper supports to the people who care for young children is crucial infrastructure in any city, and we need to treat it with that level of importance. She also shared that those advocating for the early childhood workforce should closely align their work with a mayor’s strategic priorities in order to gain increased support.
  • We need to talk about the impact of early childhood trauma – not just on children, but on the early childhood workforce, too. More and more exciting efforts are being made to incorporate the impact of early childhood trauma into systems of care for young children. However, individuals who care for children haven often experienced trauma themselves. While we continue to think about trauma’s impact on young children, we must simultaneously take steps to incorporate trauma-informed care into professional development systems for the workforce.
  • Partnerships with higher education are key to deepening support for the early childhood workforce. Kim Owens, the Grow NJ Kids incentives coordinator at the New Jersey Department of Human Services, described partnerships that the state of New Jersey has with five different institutions of higher education. These partnerships allow New Jersey to jointly administer many programs that they would not be able to administer on their own, such as a statewide workforce registry and training for early education providers. Dr. Antoinette Mitchell, assistant superintendent of postsecondary and career education for the Washington, D.C. Office of the State Superintendent of Education, told city leaders about Washington’s program that gives high school students career and technical education to move them toward credentialing as early childhood educators.

To learn more about the YEF Institute’s Cities Supporting the Early Childhood Workforce project, click here.

About the author: Alana Eichner is the Early Childhood Associate in NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education, and Families.