Omaha, Neb., April 29, 2022 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — Early childhood educators are sometimes called “the workforce behind the workforce.”
Parents cannot work if they do not have loving and trustworthy care for their children. Businesses cannot operate at full capacity if their employees do not have access to reliable child care. Communities cannot thrive when young families leave because there are no daycare centers or preschools nearby.
Early childhood professionals provide an essential foundation for child development and economics. The health care providers, grocery store workers and teachers we relied on during the pandemic? Child care providers allowed them to continue working in their essential jobs, knowing that their children were being cared for, taught and nurtured.
The Buffett Early Childhood Institute at the University of Nebraska and its statewide partners are working to make Nebraska’s early childhood workforce a valued profession.
It’s because the workforce behind the workforce needs our help. Too often child care providers are underpaid and undervalued, dismissed as babysitters instead of being respected as teachers and caregivers who guide children through seismic times of change as they learn to walk, talk and play.
The pandemic has made it even harder, with more child care providers closing their doors due to quarantines, labor shortages or declining enrollment. A Buffett Institute report documented that in July 2021, 13% of Nebraska child care programs that existed before the pandemic closed. There were 1,500 fewer early childhood workers.
Many of those left are also struggling, according to stark findings from the Institute’s latest survey assessing the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on Nebraska child care providers.
More than 750 suppliers responded in February. More than half of them have contracted COVID-19 at least once, compared to a quarter of state residents. Some are still experiencing the lingering symptoms that have become a hallmark of a long COVID. Two-thirds have seen their income drop in the past year, and more than four in five have had difficulty hiring staff – some job openings haven’t attracted a single candidate.
This is because early educators often get by on low salaries. They may not get health benefits or paid sick leave. In Nebraska, child care workers earn an average wage of just $12.31 an hour. Childcare businesses, many of which are small and women-owned, operate on thin margins and struggle to compete with retailers, fast-food chains and other industries offering salaries and signing bonuses higher.
The Buffett Institute believes that the professionals who teach our children have gifts and skills that should be recognized and fairly rewarded. In the two years since the Nebraska Early Childhood Workforce Commission released a comprehensive report aimed at improving the early childhood workforce, the Buffett Institute has worked in this sense by:
Conducted several COVID-19 impact surveys. Watch for more survey results this spring.
Nebraska Early Childhood Workforce Leadership Framework.
The framework was designed to give early childhood educators a place at the table of conversations about early childhood issues and policies. Twenty-six educators, hailing from Omaha, Battle Creek, Chadron and small towns in between, will come together over the next three years to develop their leadership skills and initiate community projects. Use a listening tour of college campuses and a survey of early childhood educators to inform ongoing efforts to create aligned and accessible higher education and training pathways so that Nebraska has a strong pipeline of early childhood educators who reflect the diversity of Nebraska families. Offering professional development webinars so educators can learn about relevant and timely topics like teacher well-being and using technology creatively and appropriately with young learners.
An ambitious job awaits us. As part of an $8.9 million annual Federal Continuing Early Childhood Development Grant that Nebraska received, a statewide early childhood public awareness campaign will begin this spring. Its goal is to raise awareness that everyone, including families, schools, businesses and elected officials, has a stake in supporting children’s learning and development.
And our partners at the Nebraska Children and Families Foundation continue to expand their Communities for Kids initiative, which works directly with places like Gothenburg, Lexington and Boone County to provide parents with expanded and improved local child care options. .
We will continue to work closely with and advocate for Nebraska’s early childhood workforce. Our educators – the workforce behind the workforce – deserve it, as do the children who learn and grow in their care.
Erin Duffy works at the Buffett Early Childhood Institute at the University of Nebraska and writes about early childhood issues that affect children, families, educators, and communities. As a journalist, she spent more than five years covering education issues for daily newspapers.
Erica Nett Buffett Early Childhood Institute at the University of Nebraska (402) 554-6723 firstname.lastname@example.org Erin Duffy Buffett Early Childhood Institute at the University of Nebraska email@example.com