Infant-Toddler Project Spotlight: AWARD$

In fall 2018, the NC Division of Child Development and Early Education launched five infant-toddler projects funded by the Child Care Development Fund Block Grant. This month’s spotlight will focus on Infant-Toddler Educator AWARD$, a salary supplement program administered by Child Care Services Association (CCSA). 

Babies learn through their relationships with the adults in their lives. For the more than 66,000 infants and toddlers in licensed child care in North Carolina, that includes their early childhood teachers, who must have the knowledge, skills, and resources to support babies’ healthy development and learning.

But despite the critical work they do, infant-toddler teachers are woefully underpaid, earning an average of just $10 per hour, even if they have degrees. This leads to turnover and instability in the classroom, as well as a workforce crisis as child care programs struggle to attract and retain qualified teachers. 1 in 5 early educators predicts they will leave the field within 3 years, primarily due to low wages.

The AWARD$ program is helping to combat this workforce crisis by providing education-based salary supplements to infant-toddler teachers. Eligible educators must work at least 35 hours per week with infants and toddlers in a center or family child care home with at least three stars, earn at or below $18 per hour, meet education standards, and have worked in the same program for at least six months.

It is the first statewide direct salary supplement program for infant-toddler educators, and it provides a much-needed boost to a workforce that is experiencing vast economic stress and instability, with nearly half relying on some form of public assistance. This program helps fill the gap between what parents can afford to pay and the resources child care programs have available to pay qualified teachers a higher salary.

According to AWARD$ Manager Erin Belford at CCSA, “If infant-toddler teachers are less stressed about how they’re going to pay a bill, they’re able to be more present and provide a loving, caring, and supportive environment for infants and toddlers. They may be able to stay in a classroom longer and then the babies have a more consistent provider—it makes a big difference seeing the same face every day.”

Tina Knoblauch, an AWARD$ recipient who works at Caldwell Early Head Start in Lenoir, NC agrees. “AWARD$ is a major incentive to stay in one program. It has provided stability for many teachers and stopped them from bouncing from job to job,” she said. Knoblauch has been at Caldwell Early Head Start for the past nine years.

In addition to encouraging retention, AWARD$ also provides an incentive for teachers to obtain early education degrees, since they must have at least an Associate Degree to be eligible for the program and the supplement amount increases with higher education levels. This is much more than the current state law, which only requires infant-toddler teachers to have one course in early childhood education in order to be a lead teacher.

“AWARD$ is a very beneficial program for teachers who have worked long and hard for their education,” Knoblauch said. “It makes it seem worth it.”

To date, 1,124 infant-toddler educators have received salary supplements through AWARD$.

For more information, click here or contact AWARD$ staff at 919-967-3272 or

For more resources and to learn more about the Coalition’s efforts to support the early childhood education workforce, click here.