Supporting the Psychological Well-Being of the Early Care and Education Workforce: Findings from the National Survey of Early Care and Education

Publication Date: July 12, 2018
Supporting the Psychological Well-Being of the Early Care and Education Workforce: Findings from the National Survey of Early Care and Education Cover

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  • Published: 2018


Research Questions

  1. How psychologically distressed is the ECE workforce?
  2. What formal and informal workforce supports are associated with less distress in the ECE workforce?

While many efforts to improve the quality of early care and education (ECE) have focused on increasing teachers’ and caregivers’ competencies and knowledge specific to the teaching of young children, a small body of research suggests that an ECE workforce that is mentally healthy can provide the best-quality care for children.


Quality improvement efforts for ECE often focus on increasing teachers’ and caregivers’ competencies and knowledge specific to the teaching of young children. Now, a growing body of research suggests that supporting caregivers’ psychological well-being may also be a worthy goal. This report addresses an important next step in this work: understanding the linkages between various workforce supports and teachers’ psychological well-being.

The findings from this report can be used to guide practices and policies in ECE programs to support teachers’ psychological well-being. This report will also be helpful for researchers because it describes future studies that could be undertaken to answer remaining questions about the psychological well-being of the ECE workforce.

Key Findings and Highlights

  • Fewer than one in ten center-based ECE teachers have moderate psychological distress, and less than one percent experience serious distress.
    • ECE teachers were less likely than the general population of adult females to experience serious psychological distress.
  • Teachers had less psychological distress when they experienced teamwork, respect, and stability at work.
    • Other workforce supports were hypothesized to be important for ECE teachers’ well-being, but were not significantly associated with teachers’ distress. These included (a) group size/ratio, (b) availability of coaching/mentoring, (c) financial support for professional development, (d) substantive supervision, and (e) support for the teacher in dealing with difficult children and parents.
    • Teachers with lower household incomes reported greater psychological distress.


This report used data from the National Survey of Early Care and Education (NSECE), a nationally representative survey of the ECE workforce collected in 2012. Teachers responded to six items assessing symptoms of nonspecific psychological distress—for example, how often they feel like “everything is an effort.” This six-item measure was developed to assess population-level mental health in the U.S. National Health Interview Survey. Workforce supports were measured at the same time as teachers’ psychological well-being.

After accounting for teachers’ background characteristics, we examined whether formal workforce supports (e.g., coaching/mentoring) and informal workforce supports (e.g., feeling respected at work) were associated with ECE teachers’ psychological distress.


While our findings are not causal, they suggest that ECE programs with a supportive and rewarding workplace climate may be beneficial for ECE teachers’ psychological health. Programs and research should further explore aspects of workplace climate, including teamwork and respect, as well as a broader range of possible supports and practices to strengthen social connections and esteem among employees. Finally, programs and future research should explore a range of practices or conditions that may alleviate financial or material stressors for teachers, given our finding that teachers with higher household incomes had lower levels of psychological distress.

Researchers can further illuminate this topic in the following ways:

  • Continue to explore whether, and under what circumstances, psychological distress in the ECE workforce may negatively impact children’s well-being.
  • Capitalize on longitudinal study designs to understand how various workforce supports, teachers’ psychological distress, and employment status (e.g., exiting the workforce) are related over time.
  • Identify predictors of psychological distress among home-based ECE teachers and caregivers.
  • Collect more detailed information about specific workforce supports, such as whether a coaching program included mental health consultation.
  • Further explore the association between ECE teachers’ household income and their psychological distress, seeking to understand how income may contribute to teachers’ psychological distress, such as through individual wages, financial security, material hardship, or perceived inequality.


Madill, R., Halle, T., Gebhart, T., & Shuey, E. (2018). Supporting the psychological well-being of the early care and education workforce: Findings from the National Survey of Early Care and Education. OPRE Report #2018-49. Washington, DC: Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.


Early Care and Education
National Survey of Early Care and Education
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