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Who Can Work in a Child Care Center? What is Good Enough?

Every morning, millions of children are welcomed into their classrooms by members of the child care workforce. Once parents wave goodbye, these directors, teachers, and teacher assistants spend countless hours caring for our youngest and most vulnerable. But who is qualified to care for our children? The answer depends on which state you live in.

BPC scanned training and education requirements for staff working in a child care center in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The unfortunate reality is many states require little to no training for child care staff working in a licensed center and requirements vary greatly from state to state.

To work in a child care center as a teacher:

  • One state has no requirements (NV)  
  • Eleven states require individuals to be a certain sixteen, unless otherwise noted (AK, ID, LA, MO-18, ND- 14, NM-18, IA, SD- 18, TN-18, UT, WY). 
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To work as a teacher assistant:

  • Three states have no requirements (FL, MI, and NV).
  • Twenty-one states require individuals to be 16, unless otherwise noted (AK, GA, ID, IA, LA, MA, MO-18, MS, NE, NM-18, NH, NC, ND-14, OR-15, KS, SD-14, TN-18, UT, VA, WI-18, WY).

Many states barely exceed this threshold, requiring just a high school diploma to work as a teacher or teacher assistant.

Licensing requirements are the minimum standards to work in a child care center, meaning centers can also employ a workforce with qualifications that far exceed the licensing requirements. The Child Care and Development Block Grant requires Lead Agencies to set baseline requirements for CPR, first aid, and safe sleep practices. More information on a state’s basic health and safety training requirements may be found in their CCDF State Plan. BPC’s Child Care Workforce Licensing Database only includes training and education requirements listed in child care center licensing regulations. Centers that participate in a state’s child care subsidy program or quality rating and improvement system typically have additional requirements, including basic health and safety training. However, states with no minimum requirements for teachers and teacher assistants run classrooms without specialized training or experience.

On the other hand, some states do require preparation for teachers and teacher assistants to enter the classroom. In Mississippi, child care teachers must have a high school diploma, CDA, and three years of experience. In Illinois, teachers must have a high school diploma, 60 semester hours from an accredited college with six hours related directly to child care, one year of experience, and the completion of an approved credential program. To learn more about licensing requirements, see our recently released Child Care Workforce Licensing Database.

Young children’s relationships with adults, especially child care staff with whom some spend 40 or more hours a week, can provide the foundation for an entire lifetime, no matter what state a child lives in.

To build a system that parents want, we need to build trust.

Creating a child care system that parents trust goes hand-in-hand with developing the competency and stability of the workforce.  BPC’s 11 parent surveys unequivocally show that trust is the most important factor for parents when choosing a child care arrangement. Are licensing requirements indicative of a trustworthy system?

However, increasing licensing requirements without providing the appropriate resources to meet them can create insurmountable obstacles to an already underpaid and overworked workforce. States should look for policies that create incremental and sustainable change. One option is  implementing registered apprenticeships or other accessible career advancement pathways to encourage individuals to enter and remain in the field while meeting any heightened licensing requirements. Compensation increases may also improve stability and reduce turnover rates and should accompany other workforce development strategies.

State administrators can develop and implement policies to create a field that people want to enter—one with good pay, of course, but also respect, opportunities for professional advancement, and strategies for reducing burnout. Updating licensing requirements, defining the workforce, developing accessible career pathways, and building data infrastructure must work alongside compensation strategies to make sustainable change.

To learn more about the role of state policy in building a competent and stable child care workforce, check out our report Top-Down, Bottom-Up: Building a State Child Care Center Workforce.

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