The Infant and Toddler Teacher and Caregiver Competencies Project: A Conceptual Model, Key Lessons, and Areas for Future Research

The Infant and Toddler Teacher and Caregiver Competencies Project: A Conceptual Model, Key Lessons, and Areas for Future Research

OPRE Report # 2023-068
Published: Feb 28, 2023
Publisher: Washington, DC: Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
Associated Project

Infant and Toddler Teacher and Caregiver Competencies (ITTCC)

Time frame: 2017-2023

Prepared for:

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation


Davis Straske

Sally Atkins-Burnett

Key Findings
  • Contextual influences on implementation of competency frameworks are present at various levels: federal (such as funding streams and policies), state (such as how a framework’s use is incentivized and the integration or fragmentation of the early care and education (ECE) system), community and local (such as the current working environment), and program (such as specific needs of a center).
  • Several characteristics of frameworks influence their use, such as the domains covered; whether competencies are precise and measurable; and the level of specificity (related to care of infants and toddlers, job role, and types of settings). Most competency frameworks focused on early childhood do not include competencies specific to the teaching and care of infants and toddlers.
  • State ECE systems use competency frameworks by integrating them into requirements or standards for quality rating and improvement systems (QRISs); licensing requirements; and workforce development initiatives such as career pathways, credentialing, and compensation.
  • Professional learning and development providers use competency frameworks to guide education, technical assistance, and training. Efforts to show how and why the competencies are relevant for teachers and caregivers can help promote participation in education and training opportunities. Establishing robust partnerships with institutions of higher education is helpful to support use of competency frameworks in teacher preparation programs. These partnerships help improve consistency in requirements, increase the number of institutions that offer competency-based education, and open up additional pathways to the higher education system for the infant/toddler (I/T) workforce.
  • Assessing competencies determines what competencies a teacher or caregiver has demonstrated. Systems and programs can use assessments to show how a teacher or caregiver can further advance in their profession. There are limited measures available for assessing I/T teacher and caregiver competencies, and even fewer associated with particular competency frameworks. Reliability and validity information is limited, particularly for measures associated with a particular competency framework.
  • Competency frameworks are hypothesized to directly support improvements in teachers’ and caregivers’ outcomes. Few studies examine these outcomes in a way that allows for establishing causal links. The five states in the Infant and Toddler Teacher and Caregiver Competencies (ITTCC) multicase study currently focus their monitoring efforts on implementation and take-up of training and education related to competencies.

Competency-based approaches have emerged as a promising strategy for improving the quality of I/T care and education. In outlining the specific competencies (that is, knowledge, skills, and attributes) that are essential to the practice of teaching and caring for infants and toddlers, competency frameworks can establish a common language for assessing job performance, provide a clear structure for professional development, and offer a step in professionalizing the I/T workforce.

The ITTCC project examined existing efforts related to competencies for I/T teachers and caregivers across states, institutions of higher education, professional organizations, and programs. The project aimed to learn about the processes and practices that facilitate successful use of competency frameworks and how competencies in those frameworks are assessed.

This synthesis presents a conceptual model for the implementation of competency frameworks to inform future research about how competency frameworks can be used effectively to improve I/T teacher and caregiver, program, and system outcomes. The synthesis also highlights key lessons from across ITTCC project activities and areas for future research given those lessons.

How do you apply evidence?

Take our quick four-question survey to help us curate evidence and insights that serve you.

Take our survey