Jun 12, 2023 - News

Initiative pays child care workers more

Illustration of a child's block with a dollar sign on it.

Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

A local nonprofit is tackling child care staff shortages by addressing the cause: low worker pay.

Driving the news: The Virginia Early Childhood Foundation launched an initiative this month to train 62 new-to-the-field early childhood educators in the Richmond area by offering paid, fast-tracked training, guaranteed job placement and a starting wage of $17 an hour, plus bonuses.

Why it matters: Many child care providers have been operating at reduced capacity since the pandemic because they couldn't find enough qualified workers.

By the numbers: Before the pandemic, the national average hourly wage for child care workers was about $11. Last month it was $13.22.

What's happening: The Virginia Early Childhood Foundation partnered with 18 child care centers serving kids 0-5 in Richmond, Henrico, Petersburg and Chesterfield to bring on the workers at $17 an hour for a minimum of 30 hours a week for the next year.

  • They will be hired by one of the centers and receive four paid weeks of training through online and hands-on instruction at 40 hours a week.
  • They'll get a $500 bonus after six months and one for $1,000 for one year.

VECF is covering the training and bonus pay through federal funding and grants.

What they're saying: "The staffing shorting has gotten dire," Karin Bowles, VECF's vice president of strategy, tells Axios. "Child care has always been a low-wage profession, unfortunately."

  • Many other child care centers were interested in participating in the program, but couldn't commit to paying $17 an hour, even with the increased state subsidies, she added.

Zoom in: More than 50% of Virginia child care centers said they turned away children last fall due to staffing shortages, per a UVA report out last month.

  • The challenges are even more pronounced for providers that accept subsidies and serve some of Virginia's lowest-income families; 63% of those providers said they turned away children.
  • Of note: UVA's study was conducted before Virginia's increased subsidies to child care providers went into effect in October.

How it works: The program is open to anyone with a high school diploma (who can clear background check). Retirees looking for a second act, fast-food or home care workers and anyone looking for a career change are among the ideal candidates, Bowles said.

  • "There are not many careers where you're holding the future in your hands. The rewards are unbeatable." Bowles said.

Visit vecf.org/fasttrack/ to apply or learn more.

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