There is increasing evidence about the relationship between the quality of early childhood services and child development, and that process quality or adult-child interactions is the aspect that matters the most. Process quality depends on the skills and preparation of those working directly with young children and families: the early childhood (EC) workforce. This almost exclusively female workforce includes, for example, caregivers in child care centers, educators, home visitors, as well as social and community workers.
We Demand Quality But Do Not Provide the Conditions to Ensure It
Despite their pivotal role in fostering children’s development and learning, the lack of preparation, support and reward for this workforce is a global problem. In the United States, for instance, the Center for the Study of Child Care Employment reports that the EC workforce is one of the most underpaid professional groups. Wages have at times been so low that staff reported food insecurity issues and postponement of education and medical treatment.
Despite the need for change, there are many obstacles to improving their working conditions. EC workers often face excessive workloads, lack of employment benefits, low wages, unstable job conditions, lack of opportunities for career growth, and insufficient qualifications and preparation. While improving these requires a coordinated effort from various ministries, the lowest hanging fruit in the short-run is without a doubt training and mentoring.
Training and Mentoring to Improve Interactions
There are currently very few early childhood programs in Latin America and the Caribbean that offer structured, standardized training programs with curricula that respond to the needs and expectations of their workforce. The Early Childhood Workforce Initiative, a multi-sectoral effort co-led by the International Step by Step Association and Results for Development to support the development of a quality EC workforce at scale, outlines a set of best practices for the design of these training programs.
The key is:
- Defining clearly the skills and knowledge that are expected of the workforce in their day-to-day activities, then,
- Aligning training content and mentoring tools accordingly.
Specifically defining expected competences allows program supervisors—those responsible for mentoring the EC workforce—to know exactly what skills they need to be assessing and reinforcing to ensure continuous program quality improvements. We conducted a recent study on the Peruvian home visiting program, Servicio de Acompañamiento A Familias, where we designed a short quality monitoring checklist for supervisors on the basis of existing checklists. This is a simple tool that can be used during routine observations of home visitors to objectively assess the quality of their work and support mentoring and in-service training.
Watch the following video for a summary of the study and its findings:
This tool is based on the specific aptitudes home visitors are expected to put in practice in their work, such as observing how often the home visitor responds to the child’s vocalizations and gestures, or praises the child for her attempts in the activities. Supporting the workforce in these tangible practices is fundamental for providing them with the skills they need to deliver high-quality services to beneficiary families.
The Quality of Early Childhood Programs Relies on its Workforce
The quality of EC services relies heavily on the interactions of its workforce with children and their families. Many areas require policy interventions in order to improve the working conditions of this workforce. Training and mentoring schemes are the best place to start. We cannot keep talking about improving the quality of EC services while at the same time ignoring the very people who carry the responsibility of quality delivery on their shoulders every day.
What strategies do you think could be used to better support and strengthen the early childhood workforce? Tell us in the comments section or mention @BIDgente on Twitter.