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What the ECE workforce faces in an anti-immigrant climate

Updated: Sep 25, 2022

A Black woman interacts with two young children of color while they paint in a classroom.
Children paint in a diverse classroom environment.

The early care and education (ECE) workforce has long experienced a laundry list of stressors, including low wages, racial and ethnic inequities, and limited access to personal and professional supports for their own well-being. A lesser known item on the list is the impact of sociopolitical stressors, which result from shifts in political legislation or from political leaders’ threatening rhetoric.

We are proud to share a recent Urban Institute report authored by our colleague Dr. R. Gabriela Barajas-Gonzalez that puts a spotlight on one specific set of sociopolitical stressors — those arising from the restrictive, anti-immigrant climate aggravated by the 2016 presidential election. With immigrants accounting for nearly one-fifth of the ECE workforce, a higher percentage than the overall workforce, Dr. Barajas-Gonzalez calls out the need to better understand the impact of this set of stressors on ECE workforce well-being.

Sociopolitical stressors hold urgent relevance to early care and education, with negative impacts on ECE workers’ health and well-being, direct negative impacts on young children and families’ health and well-being, and disruptive effects on care (i.e. making it more challenging for ECE workers to create a predictable and nurturing learning environment).

In surveys of 88 NYC educators, paraprofessionals, social workers, administrators, therapists, and family coordinators, ECE workers reported significant stress because of low wages and the national anti-immigrant climate.

Poignantly, these educators described how young children in their care -- pre-K through third grade -- demonstrated immigration worry, showing up as distress, fear, and difficulty focusing in school:

“I once had a student crying in the middle of class and would not speak. When I finally got her to open up, she told me she was scared her mom would not be back to pick her up because she would be taken away.” — Lead teacher, Latinx, multigrade (pre-K through third grade)

“I feel helpless because I can't help them. It's stressful.” — Lead teacher, Black, kindergarten

“I try to educate students on how they can keep their families safe, as many of them are the only English speakers in their immediate family. I struggle with this, though, because they are so young and this burden shouldn’t fall on them.” —Social worker, white, multigrade (prekindergarten through third grade)

Connecting the dots between federal, state, and local policy, ECE workforce issues, child and caregiver mental health, and structural racism, Dr. Barajas-Gonzalez concludes:

"It is necessary to understand that the health of the ECE workforce — which is disproportionately of color —is adversely affected by sociopolitical stressors, such as restrictive immigration policies, which are a form of structural racism. Thus, to support the health and well-being of the ECE workforce, policies are needed to ensure better wages, healthcare, and mental healthcare for this workforce. Policies are also needed to provide a pathway to citizenship for individuals with undocumented or discretionary legal status. Notably, educators with immigrant parents endorsed similar levels of fear and worry about immigration policies as did immigrant educators. This finding is consistent with an emerging line of research documenting the adverse impact of restrictive immigration policies and legal vulnerability on US citizens related to immigrants…

Absent political courage to implement policy changes that alleviate educators’ stress from financial strain and immigration worry, identification of additional supports for this vital workforce is critical."

Read the full article: Early Care and Education Workforce Stress and Needs in a Restrictive, Anti-Immigrant Climate, published by the Urban Institute, by R. Gabriela Barajas-Gonzalez.

Lisa Ellrodt and Cindy Gray are ParentCorps Educators.


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