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Local View: Burnout in early-childhood professions spells trouble for child care

From the column: "The pandemic exacerbated burnout amongst child-care workers. Safety precautions and quarantines led to understaffing. ... Workers were already experiencing burnout, and the pandemic amplified it."

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Why are so many early-childhood educators leaving the profession? Low pay, little to no benefits, and burnout are a few of many reasons. According to K-12 Dive , “45% of early child educators are battling mental health challenges and burnout.”

Many early-childhood professionals are considering leaving their field, which will directly affect children and their families.

According to the First Five Years Fund, early educators are among the most underpaid workers in the nation, at just below the poverty line at $25,080 annually. Nationally, child-care workers make less than 98% of all occupations.

Not only are teachers being affected by burnout, so are children. According to a University of Nevada study, educators are experiencing high levels of stress, missing work, and leaving classrooms empty, and children then decline academically, physically, and emotionally.

Burnout in early-childhood professions is caused by long hours, limited career ladders, physical and emotional exhaustion, continuous intimate contacts with children, low salaries, and few external rewards. According to Milagro Gonzalez in his 2020 dissertation, “ Preschool Teachers, Burnout, and Self-Care ,” “Teacher burnout is associated with feelings of work overload, underappreciation, confusion about expectations and priorities, job security, and resentfulness about the lack of commensurate pay.”

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There are many effects of this burnout. Dr. James T. Decker’s research article, “ Burnout Among Childcare Workers ,” states that as caregivers begin to burn out they may not recognize what is happening to them. Burnout is a slow, unrestricted feeling that begins inwardly. Within time, caregivers lose the desire to control their feelings of helplessness and inadequacy. They become alienated.

A decrease in mental health in workers is followed by parents having a more difficult time finding child care; parents find professionals leaving the profession instead, which can affect children’s well-being and development.

The pandemic exacerbated burnout amongst child-care workers. Safety precautions and quarantines led to understaffing. According to Alicia Wallace from CNN Business , child care workers were already experiencing burnout, and the pandemic amplified it.

“The child care industry was ‘barely getting by before the pandemic’,” Wallace wrote, quoting Caitlin McLean, director of multi-state and international programs at the University of California Berkeley’s Center for the Study of Child Care Employment. “‘‘Now it’s really at a breaking point’.”

What happens if there is no child care? Parents rely on child care to do their jobs. Finding child care is tough for parents dealing with long waitlists and high tuition costs; for some, staying home to care for their child is not a viable option.

Burnout can be prevented by expressing feelings, boundaries, and balance. Professionals should utilize vacation time, maintain student-to-teacher ratios, and prioritize center wellness. Parents can keep kids home when sick, pick up children on time, and send necessary care-giving items. Finally, everyone can advocate for those in early-childhood professions.

Many different countries are doing much better than the U.S. in combating burnout. According to UNICEF , “Luxembourg, Iceland, Sweden, Norway and Germany rank the highest on childcare provisions among high-income countries. Slovakia, the United States, Cyprus, Switzerland, and Australia rank the lowest.” The counties with the highest rankings provide many benefits and view the early-childhood profession as essential for children and their development in their country.

High-quality early-childhood education is proven to dramatically improve a child’s opportunities for a better future — particularly children from low-income families — while offering parents improved job stability and overall economic security. We must stop the burnout of early-childhood professionals, or there may be no one left to care for children.

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Jaydan Trnka, Grace Hellwig, Stella Wilton, Tayva Plasch, and Lily Hess are human services profession students at the University of Minnesota Duluth. They wrote this exclusively for the News Tribune.

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