Supporting the Professional Development of Infant and Toddler Teachers and Caregivers

Research BriefEarly ChildhoodOct 5 2023

Infancy and toddlerhood are periods of childhood marked by rapid development that set the stage for life-long learning and well-being. High-quality child care and early education (CCEE)b during this time can facilitate positive developmental outcomes.1-3 Creating high-quality early care environments for infants and toddlers requires a workforce that is well prepared and supported to teach and care for them in these specific developmental stages. In other words, as with any workforce, infant/toddler teachers and caregivers need the relevant competencies to do their jobs well. The challenge is in 1) defining these competencies and 2) creating pathways for the workforce to obtain them.

Competency: A piece of knowledge, a skill, or an attribute essential to the practice of teaching and caring for infants and toddlers.

  • Knowledge is information that may be applied to practice.
  • Skills are strategies or abilities that may be applied to practice.
  • Attributes are attitudes, beliefs, or other characteristics that may influence the application of knowledge and skills to practice.4

In many professions, competency standards are indirectly set by requiring a certain degree to qualify for the role. However, there is currently no universal qualification needed to be an infant/ toddler teacher or caregiver within and across states for center-based or home-based settings. The majority (59.8%) of center-based infant/toddler teachers and caregivers have less than an associate degree, and half (50.4%) of them do not have a Child Development Associate credential (CDA) or a state early childhood certification.5 Among listedc home-based child care providers (88.3% of whom care for at least one child under the age of three), 58.6 percent have less than an associate degree and 40.8 percentd do not have a CDA or a state early childhood certification.6 But, since postsecondary education is not accessible for much of the infant/toddler workforce, educational attainment is not necessarily the best way to gauge their competencies to support young children.

Key Highlights

  • Defining the competencies (i.e., knowledge, skills, and attributes) that are essential for infant/toddler teachers and caregivers may help improve hiring, professional development, and workforce support practices, all which promote high-quality care for children.
  • Online professional development systems may support competency development in infant/toddler teachers and caregivers.a

This brief is part of the Child Care and Early Education Policy and Research Analysis (CCEEPRA) project. CCEEPRA supports policy and program planning and decision-making with rigorous, research-based information.


a Hyperlinks to the full reports are provided for each of the resources listed in the text box and full citations are provided in the reference section. This research highlight was updated to reflect the series of resources completed by the ITTCC project. Additional citations to specific reports were added throughout.

b Child care and early education (CCEE) refers to caregiving and educational services for children from birth to age 13. CCEE includes center- and home-based settings for infants, toddlers, preschool- and school-aged children. CCEE refers to services for a larger age group than early care and education (ECE), which consists of services provided only for young children (birth to age 5 who are not yet in kindergarten). ECE programs are included within the definition of CCEE.

c The 2012 and 2019 National Survey of Early Care and Education (NSECE) survey provides the following definition: “Listed individuals appeared on state or national lists of early care and education services, such as licensed, regulated, license-exempt, or registered home-based providers. States use these terms with varying definitions and attach varying levels of program and professional standards, oversight and monitoring” (Home-based Early Care and Education Providers in 2012 and 2019: Counts and Characteristics, p.3).

d This value reflects CDA and state certification for listed, home-based providers who care for at least one child with whom they did not have a prior personal relationship. The 2019 National Survey of Early Care and Education from which this value was drawn did not collect this information consistently from home-based providers who only cared for children with whom they had a prior personal relationship.


1 Clarke-Stewart, K.A., Vandell, D.L., Burchinal, M., O’Brien, M., & McCartney, K. (2002). Do regulable features of childcare homes affect children’s development? Early Childhood Research Quarterly. 17, 52–86.

2 NICHD Early Child Care Research Network. (2005). Child care and development: results from the NICHD Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development. Guilford Press.

3 Love, J.M., Harrison, L., Sagi-Schwartz, A., van IJzendoorn, M.J., Ross, C., Ungerer, J.A., & Chazan-Cohen, R. (2003). Child care quality matters: How conclusions may vary with context. Child Development.; 74, 1021–1033. 10.1111/1467-8624.00584

4 Caronongan, P.K., Moiduddin, E., Atkins-Burnett, S., Niland, K., & Kharsa, M. (2019). Competencies of infant and toddler teachers and caregivers: a review of the literature. OPRE Report #2019-94. Washington, DC: Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

5 NORC NSECE contract team. (2022, April 29). 2019 NSECE Center-based workforce estimates of education and certification. [Memorandum]. Memo to OPRE

6 Datta, A.R., Milesi, C., Srivastava, S., & Zapata-Gietl, C. (2021). NSECE Chartbook – home-based early care and education providers in 2012 and 2019: counts and characteristics. OPRE Report #2021-85, Washington DC: Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.