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During this time of heightened concerns about health and safety, it’s important to remember where we can find reassurance, especially for society’s youngest and most vulnerable.

Hundreds of thousands of early childhood educators around the world have benefited from training focused on how to maintain a safe environment for children; this includes practices for preventing and reducing injuries.

Working in early childhood education requires in-depth knowledge and skill. This work is highly skilled and undeserving of the “babysitter” connotation too often ascribed to it. Knowing how to promote the intellectual, emotional and physical development of young children requires deep competencies. Done well, early childhood education results in skills that benefit children over the course of their entire lives.

Many early childhood educators in the United States begin their professional pathways by earning the Child Development Associate (CDA) credential from the nonprofit Council for Professional Recognition, where I serve as CEO.

This credential, which began as part of the War on Poverty with Project Head Start, is now widely embraced by all types of public and private programs that serve young children. Over 800,000 early childhood educators have earned this credential in its 45-year history.

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Over time, we’ve developed practice principles about how to best support early childhood educators. For one, we’re committed to serving all children and educators in-person, in their programs wherever they are, whether it’s a dense urban community or a remote Alaskan village.

We offer CDAs in a center-based preschool setting, a center-based infant/toddler setting, a home-based family child care setting or a home visitor setting. We also serve early childhood educators in their own languages; we’ve credentialed educators in 23 languages so far.

A group of 12 students received the first CDAs in July 1975 in Washington, D.C. Today over 800,000 CDA credentials have been issued across the nation and around the world. What makes the credential unique is that it represents multiple sources of evidence of competence: 120 hours of academic training; 480 hours of experience; a passed national exam; a portfolio; and a site visit by a professional-development specialist.

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We view the CDA credential as the best first step in an early childhood educator’s career path. Since we began, the Council has been an important voice for professionalizing early childhood education to increase support for — and the reputation of — the educators and the vital work they do.

We continue to grow as we keep an eye on the quality of the professional development that early childhood educators receive, to ensure their work continues to meet the high standards that help lead to positive long-term outcomes for children.

That’s why, in 2017, we introduced the CDA Gold Standard, which affirms the quality of training and professional development programs across the United States.

This story about certification for early childhood educators was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education. Sign up here for Hechinger’s newsletter.

Valora Washington is CEO of the Council for Professional Recognition.

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