While there is consensus in both the early care and education (ECE) and home visiting (HV) fields that a well-trained early childhood workforce is a central pillar of high-quality early childhood programs, neither field has a cohesive approach to professional development (PD). Given the overlap in families and children served by the ECE and HV fields, both could benefit from combining resources, sharing strategies, and working together more closely to support their staff.
In ECE, myriad entities implement and regulate PD: community colleges and universities, local nongovernmental organizations, professional associations, credentialing agencies, and state and federal governments. These entities have different expectations and requirements, which has resulted in considerable variation in the content and delivery of ECE PD.
There is even less cohesion in the HV field, in which there are no federal standards or nationally recognized credentialing agencies governing PD for home visitors. The largest funder of home visiting—the Maternal, Infant and Early Childhood Home Visiting (MIECHV) program—allows PD to be managed through individual grantees. Given this lack of centralized regulatory structure, HV PD initiatives are largely siloed at the state and local agency levels.
Here we spotlight some innovative work by researchers and policymakers to better align PD across the ECE and HV fields.
Develop core competencies across the early childhood fields. A report from the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) suggests that a standard set of competency-based qualification requirements can play an important role in creating a coherent early childhood workforce. While several national organizations (e.g., National Association for the Education of Young Children [NAEYC] and the Council for Professional Recognition) have developed formal ECE-specific competencies, HV-specific core competencies are less common, although there are some recent national and state examples (e.g., the National Family Support Competency Framework; Pennsylvania).
Several organizations are developing more holistic sets of core competencies that encompass the skills required for both ECE and HV professionals, such as the Prenatal to 5 Cross-Sector Core Competencies, Relationship-Based Competencies to Support Family Engagement, and the Infant Mental Health Endorsement®. These competencies highlight commonalities across ECE and HV while acknowledging the multiple contexts (e.g., home, school, family) that frame child development. PD informed by these types of competencies will prepare an early childhood workforce that is well-aligned across the early childhood fields, and better-equipped to serve children and families in a variety of settings.
Expand ECE post-secondary education programs to include HV. Partly in response to mounting evidence that post-secondary education and specialized training in child development may better prepare ECE providers, the NAS report calls for increasing educational requirements for the ECE workforce. As of 2017, NAEYC had accredited 195 associate- and baccalaureate-level ECE degree programs across the United States. There are currently no comparable degree-conferring options specifically for home visitors, but there are examples (e.g., in Massachusetts and Oregon) of home visiting systems partnering with universities to grant paraprofessional home visitors access to ECE post-secondary programs, adapting the curriculum to address issues salient to both fields. The Collaborative for Understanding the Pedagogy of Infant/Toddler Development, a group of scholars from 28 U.S. colleges and universities, is working to outline a set of competencies and curricula for the infant/toddler workforce that reflect the additional knowledge and skills specific to the HV role. Such programs advance the early childhood educational pipeline and can facilitate the development of a well-informed and -qualified early childhood workforce.
Develop comprehensive early childhood career pathways. Increasingly, the ECE field is moving toward a career pathways approach—a structured, transparent progression of educational qualifications, training, and credentials—to inform ECE PD. Many states (e.g., New Mexico, Wisconsin) have begun to incorporate these pathway programs into their existing ECE PD systems.
Professional pathways are not similarly developed in the home visiting field, in part because the career trajectories of home visitors are not as well-understood or defined. A study currently underway will provide important insights on this topic, and facilitate conversations about how best to build PD systems that support HV career advancement. Given the similarities in priorities and scopes of work between HV and ECE providers, and the possible movement of individuals between early childhood positions, a collaborative approach to career development could benefit both fields.
A well-aligned, well-prepared workforce is a necessary component of high-quality early childhood services for children and families, but the field cannot achieve this goal without a comprehensive, systemic approach to PD. These realistic, on-the-ground approaches have the potential to be integrated and scaled to benefit all early childhood professionals.
Check out the other blogs in this series: