Advocate Stories, Economic Opportunity, Health and Education

What Child Care Professionals Want Others to Know

by Amanda M. McDougald Scott, MS, PhD on May 3, 2021

Child care professionals are one of the most historically under-appreciated sectors of the workforce and they need us to hear and take action on their needs.

Among the contributing factors to why the essential work of caregiving is not valued as an essential part of infrastructure is the fact that this work is historically done by women, especially women of color.  Numerous studies have indicated a wage gap between men and women—a gap that widens further once women of color are considered in compensation analysis.  Not only does child care professionals’ pay reflect the fact that society does not value their work, but child care professionals shared with me that they feel a lack of appreciation and respect for their profession in our recent study. [1]

When considering how to take action and improve the working conditions of child care professionals, one of the most important considerations is how child care professionals themselves would envision this improvement.  What would they like?  What would they like others to know?  Was pay something that they thought should be a top priority?  Thus, one of the questions I asked of the child care workers who participated in our study (conducted with child care professionals) was what they wanted others to know about their everyday lives.  After analyzing the data, the emergent themes from their interviews indicated that child care professionals want others to know that child care work is:


All of the child care professionals in the study shared that they truly felt love for children, invested time, made personal sacrifices, and were committed to their work so that children could grow and learn in developmentally-appropriate ways.


The training and professionalism of child care work is critical to optimal brain development in children. Child care professionals provide (a) meaningful interpersonal interactions; (b) teaching of early math, science, and reading skills (etc.); and (c) life skills (such as not double-dipping a chip—see quote below).

Not Respected.

Many child care professionals felt the stigma of child caregiving work, which means they felt that society perceives their work as less important, easy, unskilled, or “just babysitting.” They were frequently told that they “did not have a real job” or viewed as “servants.”

Not paying a living wage and not providing benefits.

All of the study caregivers wanted others to know that their colleagues and they were not making a living wage and not provided benefits through their employers in most cases.  Several were concerned about the long-term viability of staying in the field they loved and concerned about the quality of future child care professionals due to the low compensation.

Requiring too much administrative work.

One of the surprising findings of the study was the concern and frustration child care professionals felt because of the amount of administrative work they had to do each day.  They felt that the excessive paperwork for the state kept them from doing their important work with children.

Best practiced when training opportunities are available and accessible.

Several child care professionals shared the importance of training, which provides them with the tools to develop and implement developmentally-appropriate curriculum for children.  Equitable access was shared as an obstacle to the necessary child care training.


Child care professionals have watched during the COVID pandemic as schools and other sectors of the workforce deemed “non-essential” were advised to stay at home for their own safety. In South Carolina, child care centers were not required to close, but many did due to factors including safety concerns or declines in enrollment. Essential workers have been left scrambling to make child care arrangements when their primary or usual care fell through.  With the decline of child care, interpersonal interactions, and parents needing to balance paid and unpaid work, children and caregivers alike feel burnout during the pandemic.  Due to these factors, the pandemic has disproportionately led to women cutting back hours or leaving the workforce, which has an estimated (and projected) cost of $64.5 billion a year in lost wages and economic activity.  Child care professionals are the backbone of our economy, allowing others to get to work and providing support to society in the face of potential danger—especially with the heightened risk of exposure to COVID and reliance on those within their care to be practicing safety precautions.  This risk is especially dire because of the lack of living wages and access to health care benefits through their employers.  Child care is an economic imperative for children, families, employers, communities, and society.


Child care professionals would benefit from our society having a better understanding of the essential and professional work caregivers bring to their jobs each day.  Our children, families, employers, community, and society would benefit from a campaign to (a) help others understand the role of child care work in our daily lives; (b) improve the way child care professionals are treated; and (c) support the child care workforce through better pay, access to benefits, and less administrative work.

The time to listen to child care professionals was over five decades ago. Let’s show them that we are listening and taking action today.


[1] McDougald Scott, A. M. (2021). Examining the Everyday Life of Child Care Workers: How Low Wages and the Lack of Benefits Affect Daily Life, Decisions about Employment, and What They Need You to Know (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). Clemson University, Clemson, South Carolina.

[2] Participant names are pseudonyms to protect privacy.

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