Dogwood Health Trust to invest in early childhood workforce

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Millions of philanthropic dollars will be poured into the early childhood system throughout western North Carolina in the coming years.

The money will go toward strengthening the early childhood workforce, which many worry will shrink further if federal aid funds now used to temporarily raise wages dry up next year.

Dogwood Health Trust, a private trust serving 18 districts and the Kuala border, last week opened a request for proposals from organizations with ideas on how to improve working conditions, attract new people to the field and increase access to workforce education.

Graphic via Dogwood Health Trust

Non-profit organizations, educational institutions, government agencies and others serving the region you can apply until midnight September 16.

The foundation plans to spend about $5 million in multi-year grants to several organizations, said Erica Williams, the foundation’s vice president of education. during last week’s webinar. The exact amount of total funding and the number of recipients have not yet been determined.

In education, “the teacher is the variable that makes the difference, no matter what part of the system we’re talking about,” Williams, who most recently worked in higher education, told EdNC. Therefore, she said, it would be appropriate to focus “on the people who are in the front of the room or near the crib.”

According to the webinar, grantees will receive multi-year grants ranging from $250,000 to $1 million each. The amount will depend on the scale and strength of the initiative and the capabilities of the grantee. The foundation seeks proposals that approach the challenges through a lens of equity – when it comes to the types of providers involved, the demographics of those receiving support, and the outcomes and curricula used.

“This is necessary because the cliff (when federal stabilization funding runs out) is coming at us faster and steeper than we thought,” Williams said. “[We’re] hoping to expand some of those innovative things that our colleagues have been able to try and do, through stabilization grants, through some of that money … I hope we continue that momentum for our partners in the region.”

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According to the foundationPriority will be given to proposals that address at least one of the following:

  • Approach, Curriculum, Teaching and Assessment.
  • Career ladder achievement (growth of existing workforce and/or growth of new recruits).
  • Leadership opportunities for members of the workforce who are BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color), from rural communities, are first generation power holders and/or have faced a lack of access to resources and opportunities.

Local focus, statewide issues

Williams said the foundation focuses on the first 2,000 days of a child’s life in four areas: housing, economic opportunity, health and education.

Her focus on early childhood is based on listening sessions and research from the Child Care Association, which published analysis of early care and education in the region the last month.

The association’s findings highlight the challenges other states and countries face in supporting early childhood development.

Twenty-two percent of children under the age of 6 in the area were living in poverty earlier this year, the report noted — an improvement from January 2020, when 33% lived in families with income below the federal poverty level. The report said the improvement was likely due to an increase in support for families linked to the pandemic, such as Child Tax Credit, which has since been phased out.

According to the report, there is an unmet need for childcare. In February, 59 percent of the region’s nearly 50,000 children under the age of 6 lived with one or two parents. However, only about 23% of children under the age of 6 were in licensed child care programs.

Enrollment is down about 15% from the start of the pandemic through February, and the number of licensed programs is down slightly from 463 programs in February 2020 to 447. Thirteen of the programs that closed in the past two years were centers and three were family orphanages.

The report shows that child care is out of reach for most, with the cost being about half the income of a single parent living at the poverty line, at $800 a month for children under 3 and $700 a month for children aged 3- 5 years. .

There is a particular need for infant and toddler care, with less than half of licensed programs serving children under 3 years of age.

Instead of building more spaces for kids, Williams said staffing was a factor she kept coming back to when thinking about meeting the needs of families.

“I want to have a new center for the people’s children, but we have to have the staff,” she said. “And I think we’ve missed the biggest elephant in the room, so I want us to focus on the workforce and what we can do to support the workforce that’s going into these beautiful buildings that we want to revitalize.” .

In 2019, principals earned an average of $20 to $22 an hour, teaching staff earned $11 to $12 an hour, and family caregivers earned $8 an hour, the report said. In the future, Dogwood plans to study the workforce more.

Williams said the lowest-earning family child care organizations, which have been closing across the state and country over the past decade, are a particular part of the ecosystem in need of resources. Family child care is often more affordable and more accessible to parents who work non-traditional hours – with an older workforce – than center-based programs.

“They enhance child care for families in a way that centers can’t or don’t in some places and in some communities,” Williams said.

She pointed to a decline in family providers in the western part of the foundation’s service area in recent years. “What happened to the needs of these families and this care? … I wonder what will happen if we lose that much of this ecosystem.”

In the future, pull other levers

The foundation hopes to learn lessons that can be shared across the state, Williams said.

“Granting is one piece of the whole pie of what we could do in this space,” she said. “There is propaganda, influence and other types of capital.”

“We know that these front-end investments pay off exponentially on the back-end,” she said. “… Our time at Dogwood is worth starting at the front end and investing well and wisely. So we’ll put resources out there—grant money for now, other resources later when those lessons come to us in concrete ways—we’re really looking forward to that. The community has spoken. They made it a priority and we listened.”


Editor’s note: Dogwood Health Trust supports the work of EducationNC.

Liz Bell

Liz Bell has been an early childhood reporter for EducationNC.

Dogwood Health Trust to invest in early childhood workforce

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