I recently took a look at some figures on child care staff at public daycare centers in Peru and Ecuador. I found that the average caregiver has been in her position just shy of a year in Peru and a year and a half in Ecuador. In other words, child care services suffer from a high degree of staff turnover.
I’ve heard that in Peru, for example, in one year turnover can reach up to 30% of caregivers who work for the program! Surprisingly, these figures don’t differ much from those reported by other countries. Staff turnover is a serious challenge for early childhood development programs around the world. But why is there such an ebb and flow when it comes to this female-dominated profession?
- Low pay
- Little job security
- Lack of benefits protected by law
- Limited opportunities for professional growth
For example, one of our publications, Overview of Early Childhood Development Services in Latin America and the Caribbean, documents that at one in five child care services in the region, child care staff members do not have a formal employment relationship with the center where they work.
Frequent staff turnover among early childhood development programs is a threat to program quality. Child development experts stress that one of the keys to establishing routines and attachment relationships with infants and toddlers is the continual presence of the person charged with the child’s care. This makes sense. It takes time for an adult to get to know each child and understand the signs through which he expresses his needs and desires, but more importantly, the child needs the stable presence of that adult in order to feel safe and calm.
Besides the value provided by a stable group of child care workers, there are other reasons that high turnover is of concern. One of these is that all of the on-the-job training efforts carried out by these programs have very limited returns if the staff members receiving the training immediately leave the program. This is a very serious problem, especially since many child care services in Latin America and the Caribbean are investing in staff training as one of the main ways to build skills and improve quality in adult-child interactions or processes, the dimension for which it’s most difficult to achieve results.
Along these lines, I read a very interesting article in the journal Developmental Psychology. The article evaluates a project that worked with caregivers at 65 centers in the United States serving low-income children ages 2 and 3 and struggling, on a daily basis, with high levels of staff turnover.
The project implemented a child care worker training program that emphasizes responsive teaching practices that are grounded in sensitivity and attachment theory and a comprehensive curriculum with an emphasis on aspects of language, early reading and math, and social-emotional issues.
Three elements of the program’s design pleasantly surprised me:
- Emphasis was placed on trainers having the appropriate professional qualifications (a minimum of a bachelor’s degree and, in most cases, graduate studies as well), and each trainer was limited to working with no more than three to four caregivers.
- The intensive, high frequency intervention was delivered through the use of various tools including group workshops and one-on-one mentoring at the child care center using observation, videos, feedback, and modeling of different teaching strategies and interactions.
- The trainers were well paid. Caregivers were also financially rewarded for their participation in the training program, since it required a significant time commitment on their part.
Unfortunately, the implementation of this training program did not reverse the level of staff turnover at participating child care centers. Forty-three percent of the classrooms in the study experienced changes in the staff responsible for children (caregivers) during the course of the project. In other words, training with incentives, by itself, was not enough to retain staff.
Nonetheless, the evaluation of the experimental impact of this project reflects significant results. Children assigned to the study’s intervention group scored higher on social-emotional dimensions of development than children in the control group. The documented presence of higher quality adult-child interactions suggests that the impact came about through this mechanism. The researchers found that this intervention made no significant impact on cognitive dimensions of development.
I took away two messages from this article. One was encouraging: training programs for child care workers and teachers can be effective in improving service quality and children’s development. The other was alarming: it appears that the level of staff turnover at these child care services is such that the intensity, frequency and quality of these training programs must be extremely high in order for them to be effective.
What has your experience been with your child’s preschool teachers? Do you have a potential solution? Tell us about it on Twitter or in the comments section below.