Who Will Care for the Early Education Workforce? COVID 19 and the Need to Support Early Childhood Educators’ Emotional Well-Being

As calls to “reopen the economy” intensify, attention has turned to early care and education (ECE) for young children. Leaders throughout the country recognize child care as not just a parental responsibility but also a social responsibility that is foundational to the United States’ economy. For understandable reasons, a large focus has been on the ECE sector’s financial precarity, with some estimates suggesting that up to half of all child care could be lost as a result of COVID-19 pandemic-related closures and falling enrollment in a sector that is largely funded by fees that families pay. While this is a critical issue, the pandemic’s intense negative mental health effects on early childhood educators are getting far less attention, which can have serious ramifications on the well-being of the children in their care. Emerging evidence underscores that teachers’ stress (both personal and work-related) and emotional responsiveness impact children’s learning, anger, aggression, anxiety, social withdrawal, and overall social competence.2

This research brief is a follow-up to the snapshot report: Understanding the Impact of COVID-19 on New York’s Early Childhood System which was based upon a survey sent to participants in the Aspire Registry, New York’s early childhood workforce data system, in early May 2020.c The purpose of this survey was to understand how New York’s ECE field was faring during the early phases of the COVID-19 pandemic in order to inform planning for how to support the workforce, and therefore children and families, through the ongoing health crisis.3 Understanding the Impact provided a descriptive snapshot that raised reflective questions about the field’s needs in the areas of: (1) emotional well-being, (2) programs’ reopening and economic assistance, (3) individuals’ economic support needs, and (4) issues around developmentally meaningful remote care and instruction. This survey, along with others conducted by the Day Care Council, Raising New York, and the National and New York State Associations for the Education of Young Children provide a comprehensive portrait of the challenges facing the early care and education system throughout New York State.