25 Investigates: Mass. considering lowering requirements for daycare workers

BOSTON — The 24-page document, exclusively obtained by 25 Investigates, lays out the state’s proposal to address the staffing crunch at daycares. The modifications, which are being recommended by the Department of Early Education and Care (EEC), the agency that oversees daycare centers and in-home child care providers, would ease certain requirements for teachers and assistant teachers.

In the document, titled the “Revised Educator Qualifications Policies,” EEC says the changes would help “a workforce severely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic by offering flexible suggestions for absolute minimum requirements.”

For example, right now the minimum requirement for hiring a teacher states they must be at least 21 years old, and should have some experience in early education or an Associate’s degree.

Under the proposed changes, the new minimum is 18 years old and requires a high school diploma or equivalent, and completion or plans to complete certain child care coursework.

Current state requirements say assistant teachers need to be at least 16-years old or have a high school diploma. The new requirements suggest they can be as young as 15, if they’re enrolled in or have completed a voc-tech Early Education program.

According to EEC, teacher assistants are often interns or student teachers, used to help support the teachers. The agency adds TA’s are not responsible for child care or education directly, and are not responsible for lesson planning or instruction in the classroom.

But parents 25 Investigates heard from worry these changes could come at a cost to quality care.

“For the assistant teacher being 15, that seems a little young,” said Grace Morrell of Westwood, a mother of two young children. “I think having an associate’s degree that would be really helpful knowing that they have more training.”

Katie Torres, a mother who lives in Norwood, would like to see a different approach to the staffing shortage.

“I would wish they were going in the other direction,” she said. “Taking care of teachers, paying them more and having higher standards.”

Daycare workers are among the lowest paid in the and many have left the industry for better-paying jobs.

Another change we found lays out one set of requirements for infant and toddler teachers. Current requirements, however, have different sets for each age group.

“Directors are looking to recruit folks to join this field,” said Amy O’Leary, executive director of Strategies for Children who sits on an advisory committee for EEC working on large scale reforms.

She says the biggest concern she hears from childcare providers is that they simply don’t have enough workers.

“I think these regulations are a way to get people who want to get into this field in and then support them once they’re in,” O’Leary said. “It’s being responsive and acknowledging the reality we are in now while we are going through this bigger regulation reform.”

25 Investigates reached out to EEC about the proposed changes. A spokesperson told us they are still in draft form at this point.

But sources tell us these changes could take effect at the end of this month.

In an email, EEC added:

· There is a critical child care workforce shortage that EEC is working to address to ensure that parents have access to safe places for their children so they can return to work.

· EEC remains committed to ensuring parents have access to high-quality child care, which depends on highly trained, qualified, and supported educators across the Commonwealth.

· The qualifications for educators are not diminished. New hires are still expected to meet robust qualifications, with flexibility to complete child development coursework shortly after beginning employment. There have been no modifications to the pre-requisite safety, including Background Records Checks and pre-service CPR and first aid trainings.

· The revisions are focusing on keeping the standards of experience and training, while easing the pathways for educators. The intent is to recruit new people who are interested in the field to enter the workforce and receive professional support to sustain their interest.

· These are interim policies intended to simplify the process of hiring and retaining qualified staff. This is part of a broader objective and will be the bridge to the agency’s new educator credential system, which is a year-long process. The department has received extensive public comment from providers, parents, and educators since August. Those comments are being taken into consideration as EEC develops revised policies to accommodate the workforce crisis.

· In Spring of 2021 EEC invested $30M of state funding to support workforce compensation. At the board meeting earlier this week, EEC outlined the plan to continue giving monthly operational grants to support child care employers to increase compensation for their employees. EEC has already distributed $80M to date and is expected to spend almost $225M in 6-month grants between July and December. These grants to child care providers will be extended through the end of FY22 with enhancements to continue targeting educator compensation.

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