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Child care programs across the nation struggle to retain qualified employees. Frequent program staff turnover is associated with negative outcomes—not only for programs, but also for remaining staff and the children they serve. To combat this issue, Minnesota and several other states have invested in public initiatives to enhance wages for child care professionals.

Retaining Early Educators Through Attaining Incentives Now (R.E.E.T.A.I.N.), Minnesota’s retention initiative, is administered by Child Care Aware of Minnesota with funding from the Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS). R.E.E.T.A.I.N. offers financial bonuses, ranging from $500 to $3,500, to highly qualified providers who stay in the child care field and continually participate in professional development activities. Bonus recipients agree to remain in their current positions for at least one year after receiving the bonus.

Generalizable research on retention initiatives is scarce. Therefore,  it is important for state officials in Minnesota to gain an understanding of how R.E.E.T.A.I.N. functions as a workforce retention initiative, and the extent to which child care professionals can equitably access the program. To answer these and other questions, Child Trends conducted an evaluation of R.E.E.T.A.I.N.; this report presents findings from the evaluation. Child Trends explored research questions about past applicants to the program and how R.E.E.T.A.I.N. compares to similar retention initiatives in other states.

Key findings include the following:

The number of applicants to the program has doubled since 2013, even without a coordinated marketing effort to raise awareness. The majority of center-based respondents heard about R.E.E.T.A.I.N. from their supervisor or director; family child care providers generally heard about the program from a variety of sources, including Child Care Aware and other child care providers. Center-based providers were more likely to apply for and receive a bonus than family child care providers.

Very few providers experienced any challenges when applying for the bonus. In general, providers indicated that applying for the bonus was simple. Just 15 percent of respondents experienced challenges when applying. One of the most commonly cited challenges was difficulty submitting required documentation. Center-based providers were more likely to have received help on the application (17 percent), relative to family child care providers (4 percent), suggesting that the latter may have had less access to application supports.

More than half of recipients felt that receiving a bonus influenced their decision to stay in the child care field. Fifty-five percent of recipients who responded to the survey agreed that the bonus had increased their likelihood of staying in the field. Among those providers who did leave the field, low compensation was the most commonly cited reason for their decision.

The majority of bonus recipients used the funds for classroom resources. Providers most commonly indicated that the bonus helped them purchase goods or resources for their classrooms (75 percent) or for their personal needs (89 percent). However, family child care providers were more likely to say the bonus funds were really helpful for purchasing goods and resources for the classroom (73 percent), whereas center-based providers more commonly said the funds were really helpful for purchasing good or resources for themselves (62 percent). This finding is not surprising, given that center-based providers likely have more access to classroom resources through their programs. Although advancing providers’ education and professional development is not an explicit goal of R.E.E.T.A.I.N., one third of respondents indicated that the bonus had supported their education (35 percent) or professional development (46 percent).

Most workforce retention programs reviewed also provided salary supplements. Out of 16 similar programs reviewed, 11 (including R.E.E.T.A.I.N.) provide salary supplements as their primary workforce retention activity. In each of these salary supplement programs, participants receive supplements based on a tiered system that assesses applicants’ scores on such measures as wages, professional development participation, and career history. Recipients with higher scores receive larger bonus amounts. A major difference between R.E.E.T.A.I.N. and the other reviewed programs is the requirement that providers who receive funds advance their career lattice level within a specified amount of time in order to receive all the funds. R.E.E.T.A.I.N. considers applicants’ career lattice levels during scoring but does not require that recipients move up in the career lattice system to receive the full bonus amount. Of the 16 programs reviewed, seven included this requirement.

Additional findings, implications, and recommendations for improving R.E.E.T.A.I.N. are discussed in the full report (available for download below).

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