Building and Sustaining the Early Care and Education Workforce (BASE)


Quality early care and education can have lasting positive effects on young children, especially those growing up in low-income families. However, there are ongoing challenges in recruiting, supporting, and retaining a qualified, healthy, and stable early care and education (ECE) workforce that reflects the linguistic, racial, and ethnic diversity of the families and children ECE programs serve. Turnover rates, for example, are relatively high in the ECE field, which have negative consequences not only for children, but for teachers and providers.

There are several aspects of ECE work that can inhibit recruitment and retention, such as high stress and burnout, low levels of compensation and education, and limited opportunities for training and professional development. But there is limited evidence on what strategies might improve them and what strategies work best for different types of workers and in different settings.

The Building and Sustaining the Early Care and Education Workforce (BASE) project aims to increase knowledge and understanding in this area by documenting factors that drive workforce turnover in early care and education and by building evidence on current initiatives underway at state, local, and provider levels across the United States. In October 2020, the Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services awarded MDRC a contract for the project. The objective is to identify effective approaches to recruiting, supporting, and retaining a qualified ECE workforce.

Agenda, Scope, and Goals

BASE is a multiyear project (2020-2025) that is being conducted in several phases. Key upfront activities include a comprehensive review of existing research and a scan of current strategies aimed at building and sustaining a qualified ECE workforce. These scans will inform the development of conceptual frameworks, models illustrating the key factors driving turnover and the pathways through which they operate and highlighting connections between potential strategies and key outcomes. The early project activities will identify gaps in the field and promising strategies suitable for evaluation. A review of existing data sources, selected data analyses, and the design of study options will aim to address unanswered questions and inform future research. Final project activities may include case studies and demonstrations to evaluate promising strategies supporting the ECE workforce in Head Start and subsidized child care settings.

The BASE project is guided by several research questions, including:

  • What conditions and practices drive ECE workforce turnover, and how does this differ by ages of the children served, worker characteristics and roles, program context (that is, Head Start, child care subsidies, and other funding sources and sponsors), and community and state context?
  • What program- and/or system-level policies, activities, and characteristics support the recruitment and retention of the workforce, both within Head Start and subsidized child care programs and within the ECE field? 
  • What strategies or combination of strategies are currently being implemented to support staff development and retention?
  • What is the evidence on the effectiveness of various strategies for supporting and retaining a qualified workforce (for example, pay and benefit increases, professional supports, and organizational capacity-building), and do their effects vary by worker characteristics and roles, program context, and community and state context?
  • What factors (including program administration, funding sources, and policy and community context) influence the successful implementation of promising strategies to support ECE workforce retention?

Design, Sites, and Data Sources

The case studies of existing strategies will be designed to describe how different strategies are implemented and how they are experienced by ECE workers. Data sources may include worker and staff surveys and interviews and administrative records data. The two demonstration studies will be designed to test the effectiveness of various strategies. Each demonstration, one focused on Head Start settings and one focused on other subsidized child care settings, will be conducted as a randomized controlled trial and will include approximately 100 centers, covering 1,000 individuals. Outcomes and impacts will be assessed using follow-up surveys and administrative records and other existing data.