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10 Steps to a Stable, Competent, Child Care Workforce

The Brief

BPC’s Latest Research Emphasizes How Investing in Data Systems, Career Pathways, and Business Skills Can Stabilize the Child Care Workforce 


March 1, 2024

The first years of life are foundational for a child’s healthy development. Nearly 15 million children under age six live in households in which all parents work, leaving many of them in need of child care. High quality environments promote healthy behaviors, independence, and strong self-help skills in young children. One of the most important factors in ensuring quality child care is adult-child interactions – often provided by early learning teachers, child care staff, and program directors. Yet, providers face ever growing challenges recruiting and retaining a competent and stable workforce.

“Working in a child care center is a high stress job,” said Linda K. Smith, Director of the Early Childhood Initiative at BPC. “The pay is low. Turnover rates are high. Staffing shortages lead to empty classrooms, ratcheting up demand. Recruiting and retaining qualified child care teachers and staff has always been a challenge, but COVID exacerbated it.”

Today, BPC is releasing a 10-step plan for building a state’s child care workforce and specifically identifies a key player to improving workforce quality: state-level child care administrators. In Top-Down Bottom-Up: Building a State’s Child Care Center Workforce it finds state child care administrators can, “create sound policies with measurable goals; develop clear definitions and competency requirements; establish career pathways and workforce infrastructure; create public-private partnerships where appropriate; and direct sustainable public investments.”

The report includes considerations for all child care center staff, including directors and support staff, who are too often left out of the conversation. Most importantly, the 10-step plan goes beyond increased teacher compensation and notes that definitions, data systems, career pathways, and business skills all need to be considered and addressed.

“The child care workforce lacks much of the foundational infrastructure needed to build a profession,” Smith continued. “It needs minimum entry requirements and competency standards for directors, teachers, and support staff.” Education requirements to become a child care teacher vary from state to state. For example, there are:

  • no requirements in 14 states,
  • 20 states require a high school diploma, and
  • eight states require a Child Development Associate® Credential™ (CDA).

The report says, “Child care is ultimately a local issue with national repercussions. Each state has a unique landscape that will drive different processes and policies along the journey to a strong and stable child care workforce… States have the authority to set requirements for the field and to build infrastructure to sustain the sector.”


  • “In a nation grappling with the challenges of workforce instability in the early childhood sector, the focus areas outlined in this comprehensive report offer a beacon of hope for reforming a faltering system. I congratulate Linda Smith and the Bipartisan Policy Center on a groundbreaking approach supported by trusted sources and decades of research.” Calvin E. Moore, Jr. PhD, Chief Executive Officer, Council for Professional Recognition
  • “With its usual comprehensive and visionary approach, the Bipartisan Policy Center offers a fresh take on what is needed to diffuse the child care crises. Ambitious in intent, systemic in approach, and strategic in its recommendations, “Top-Down, Bottom-Up” reminds us that enhancing compensation is a necessary but insufficient solution to achieving the social change that will redress rampant inequities and widespread quality voids that characterize contemporary child care services. A wise blueprint for urgent state policy action, the report provides clear, crisp, and actionable recommendations that must be heeded if we stand any chance of improving early years’ experiences for children, their families and the workforce.” — Sharon Lynn Kagan EdD, Professor of Early Childhood and Family Policy, Columbia University


About the Bipartisan Policy Center

The Bipartisan Policy Center is a mission-focused organization helping policymakers work across party lines to craft bipartisan solutions. By connecting Republicans and Democrats, delivering data and context, negotiating public policy, and creating space for bipartisan collaboration, BPC helps turn legislators’ best ideas into durable laws that improve lives. Since 2007, the Bipartisan Policy Center has helped shepherd countless bills across the finish line. Learn more at

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