(May 2023) WNC is experiencing the early childcare staffing and capacity shortages that have spiked across the country in the wake of the pandemic. More than 25 percent of early childhood education staff has left the workforce in Transylvania County, resulting in long wait lists and disruptions for families, especially parents of infants and toddlers.
With a $100,000 Early Childhood Development grant awarded in August, Smart Start of Transylvania County (SSTC) is working to retain qualified and experienced early childhood educators and to build childcare capacity. SSTC is leveraging partnerships with existing childcare programs and developing potential new childcare program operators, both in- and out-of-home care settings.
The need is urgent and SSTC has already deployed resources to build capacity. It helped to outfit two new classrooms for three- and four-year-olds at high demand sites and created an outdoor gear library for students at Ripple Collective to ensure that outdoor education is an option throughout the year.
Grant funds are supporting the opening of local Family Child Care Homes, a form of home-based care licensed and regulated by the Division of Child Development and Early Education. This option offers flexible, affordable childcare to parents in rural and underserved areas and can provide a higher percentage of infant and toddler care, the most underserved group in Transylvania County.
SSTC is also making resources available to administrators at childcare businesses to help identify and overcome financial and logistical barriers. It is encouraging current and prospective educators to enroll in and graduate from degree programs by participating in T.E.A.C.H., a NC scholarship program. A degree can result in higher wages for workers and better ratings for centers. SSTC funds the Wage$ program that supplements early childhood educator pay and can support higher retention and recruitment rates.
Children who receive enriching care in their first five years are more likely to succeed in school and earn higher wages. Providing appropriate support to the early childhood community and strengthening existing foundations and building new avenues of care will help us create a brighter future for our children and our communities.
SSTC Early Childhood Education & Capacity Workforce Lead