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The Repository features Early Childhood Resource Center program that works to boost retention of child care staff

The Repository features Early Childhood Resource Center program that works to boost retention of child care staff

The Early Childhood Resource Center in 2021 created the Workforce Retention and Financial Viability Project, a pilot program in Stark County to help preschools and child care centers boost retention of child care staff. The COVID-19 pandemic served to exacerbate the struggle to maintain workers. The pilot program, which is being funded through a grant by the Sisters of Charity Foundation of Canton, involves 16 child care centers in Stark County.

The Repository recently wrote about the pilot program. The full text of the article is below or available here.

The Early Childhood Resource Center and the Sisters of Charity Foundation of Canton are ministries of the Sisters of Charity Health System.

Program works to boost retention of child care staff

By Charita M. Goshay
The Repository

Preschools and child care centers have long struggled to maintain workers. The COVID-19 pandemic only served to exacerbate the problem.

In 2021, it spurred the Early Childhood Resource Center to create the Workforce Retention and Financial Viability Project, a pilot program in Stark County.

"It's always been a revolving door with child care but once the pandemic hit, a lot of staff were not wanting to work," said Sara G. Davis, an early childhood specialist with ECRC. "Many were afraid due to COVID, and businesses were struggling, so kids were staying home. Many child care centers were losing enrollment, but they also didn't have the staff to cover."

Davis said the extra money many people received from unemployment also made it possible for them to remain home longer.

The pilot program, which is being funded through a grant by the Sisters of Charity Foundation, involves 16 child care centers in Stark County.

"In 2021, we had 10 centers," Davis said. "This year, we have five returning, and 11 new centers."

Setting goals
The goals of the 2021 project were to:

  • Study the current staff retention of participating businesses and design strategies for both operational and financial contribution to greater retention.
  • Build skilled staff teams and enhance staff retention through implementation of financial and human resource strategies.
  • Increase financial knowledge of early childhood directors to manage and lead their businesses successfully.
  • Study the current financial viability of participating early childhood businesses and build strategies for financial sustainability.

The first year of the pilot project came to an end in December 2021.

ECRC works with about 130 child care centers in Stark, as well as centers in Summit, Medina, Portage, Mahoning and Trumbull counties.

Davis said the pilot program is being led by two nationally recognized consultants, Karen Foster Jorgensen, a financial analyst and coach who conducts financial viability training for school administrators and chief financial officers, and Mark Plaster, who helps administrators develop workforce retention strategies.

The Rev. Ryan Johanning, executive director of the Interfaith Campus Ministry and programming administrator of the Interfaith Preschool & Child Care Center, said they managed to stay open despite the pandemic.

Prior to the pandemic, the school, which is housed in the John Knox Presbyterian Church at 5155 Eastlake St. NW, served about 70 children, from infants to preschoolers, Johanning said.

"We saw a drop in children but we're slowly climbing and bringing in more children as time goes on," he said, adding that the staff that had dipped to 12 people has grown back to 23.

Olivia Ross, a Kent State University student majoring in early childhood education, has worked at the child care center for about 18 months.

"I don't think people realize how hard it is, honestly," she said. "Even I didn't know."

Ross said she's working at the center to give herself a head start in her chosen career. She wants to be a kindergarten teacher.

'Retention is hard'
Emily Kress, a pre-kindergarten lead teacher, said workforce retention is a challenge everywhere.

"I have friends in other centers; retention is hard," she said. "In a lot of places, it's budget. Sometimes, morale can be an issue. To be a lead teacher, you have to have training. I don't think a lot of parents realize how much training is required. Sometimes (teachers) don't feel. respected."

Kress said Interfaith Preschool has worked hard on its retention by remaining competitive and by working in partnership with the ECRC.

Johanning said his workforce retention training included goal-setting and strategies for retention bonuses, pay increases, increased marketing and advertising, particularly through social media, and what he calls "acts of appreciation."

"One of the key aspects is having a dialogue with the staff," he said. "It's asking them questions, 'What's your favorite part of the job?' It's just letting them know that we care about them. That usually doesn't happen until someone's on their way out the door. I definitely feel we now have a good barometer for them."

Davis said the pilot project particularly focuses on pay increases. Most child care programs can't compete with what other companies are offering potential workers. According to the Economic Policy Institute, the average pay for child care workers is $13.51 per hour compared to $27.31 for all other workers.

Davis said the pilot program also advocates a pay structure based on a staffer's experience and education.

"We're now paying up to $18.50 an hour for a lead teacher, and $10 to $12 for an assistant teacher," she said, adding that teachers also get tuition discounts when they enroll their own children.

Davis said child care centers in the pilot program are enjoying progress as evidenced by the following:

  • 90% have increased staff wages – generally made possible by tuition increases.
  • 80% have increased tuition rates.
  • 60% have instituted new employee feedback tools and new hiring approaches.
  • 40% have increased fee collection strategies, new budgeting strategies or increases the director's finance role.
  • 30% have instituted new tuition guidelines.
  • 40% have instituted new staff appreciation guidelines.

"It's nice to go into classrooms and see changes," she said. "Children are happier and engaged. It's nice to see such improvements."

Davis said she thinks the child care profession is becoming more respected and valued.

"I think it changed during the pandemic when child care became scarce," she said. "They're starting to see there is a need. I think people finally realize we are educators, that we're not glorified babysitters. We help children with their development and learning."

Johanning said he's grateful for ECRC's assistance.

"We've been very blessed to have the opportunity to work with the Early Childhood Resource Center," he said. It's been very beneficial for the short-term and long-term viability of our center."


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