RI Child Care Staffing Crisis: Khadija Lewis-Khan’s Story
High-Quality, Affordable Child Care Essential for Working Parents and a Strong State Economy
Beautiful Beginnings Child Care Center offers high-quality child care and early childhood education for children from infancy through preschool, centered on the belief that working families need high-quality options and that all children can achieve at a high level when given what they need.
Khadija Lewis Khan, M.Ed., Director of Beautiful Beginnings, says that educators with strong early childhood knowledge and skills are not willing to work for the $12.11 hourly wage that is typical for child care educators in Rhode Island. Even though the center pays more than that, it is incredibly difficult to attract and retain qualified, skilled educators to work for low wages, a problem that all child care programs have struggled with in recent years. The pandemic has only amplified this problem.
“We’ve been able to increase compensation at all levels using DHS stabilization funds to ensure we have the high quality educators we need to stay open,” said Khadija. “In January, some of that funding will end, and our only other option would be to eventually raise tuition when families are facing their own financial stresses. These supplemental funds have allowed us to remain operational, but we need them as a permanent fix not just a band-aid during the pandemic.”
Despite their best efforts to be creative and resourceful in how they fund their high-quality environment, Beautiful Beginnings—along with the entire child care industry—faces a major staffing crisis. The center continues to lose qualified teachers due to inadequate resources to offer competitive wages and benefits.
With a total waitlist of 180 children waiting on classroom spots, and despite having a long waitlist of families who need infant care, Beautiful Beginnings was forced to close an infant classroom for over a year due to not having adequate infant educators. Fortunately, the infant classroom was finally staffed and reopened in October of 2021.
“The role of early educators is so important, and most people don’t realize the vast skills that go into the profession. It requires a grasp of child development, curriculum development, assessment, family engagement, classroom setup, safety protocols, documentation, literacy, and communications skills,” said Khadija. “Our educators deserve to be compensated fairly for their expertise with a competitive and family-sustaining wage. If we don’t invest in the field, we’re all going to feel the repercussions, as high quality early childhood educators will no longer be available to prepare our children for success.”
Khadija has been a leader on state task forces to develop recommendations to improve compensation levels of child care educators. She recommends the state allocate resources immediately to supplement hourly wages for all child care staff to reach at least $15 per hour, and to provide additional wage supplements to help programs retain the more qualified and skilled child care educators so they don’t leave for higher paying jobs. At least 15 states currently provide wage supplements to help child care programs retain qualified and skilled educators.
“Having consistent, stable, nurturing relationships with caregivers is so important for young children. When educators are forced to explore higher-paying employment options in other fields so they can support their families, it’s our kids who suffer. We must change the ways early childhood education is funded so qualified educators are able to remain in the field,” said Khadija.