AUGUSTA — Maine parents have plenty to worry about – rising health care costs, saving for their child’s future and figuring out how they are going to be able to save for retirement, to name a few. And now they also have to worry about the health and safety of their young children in child care.

Just this past summer, Maine’s Department of Health and Human Services put in place “emergency rules” that are eroding the health, safety and quality of early childhood education in our state. Parents are already struggling with the cost of child care; they should not have to worry about their child’s safety or learning environment while they work hard to make ends meet. If we want our children to be successful adults, we need to reverse these rule changes and ensure our kids have access to quality early education.

What happens early on in a child’s life can have a lasting impact on what they are able to achieve as adults. The early years are a critical period of brain development as children make connections, interact with adults and figure out the world around them. Research shows how important early childhood education is in shaping children’s development. Children who have quality early learning experiences tend to do better in school and are more likely to succeed in the workforce. As a result, providing quality child care for our youngest Mainers is more than just the right thing to do; it is what we need to do for our future workforce. It is a family issue, a community issue and a business issue.

Yet these new policies instituted by the DHHS have rolled back important protections that have helped provide a healthy early learning environment for our youngest Mainers. The new rules allow for less supervision and allow less-qualified employees to watch over children. The rules have also put toddlers in the same category as older children, meaning our toddlers could receive less staff supervision. Infant ratios are now 6-to-1 – meaning six infants for every staff person. Anyone who has seen a toddler in action or cared for a crying infant knows how misguided those policies are for children’s health and safety. On top of that, the rules have removed the explicit rights of parents to visit their child at any time. That is not how we raise the next generation of successful Mainers.

This session, we are working to pass legislation designed to reverse these concerning rule changes and put in place common-sense guidance for child care providers that will ensure quality education for our children. This includes restoring the appropriate guidance on age groups and child-to-staff ratios. Both the experiences of parents and decades of research have proven that young children need ample individualized attention in order to keep them safe and promote healthy brain and language development. The bill requires the child-to-staff ratio for toddlers to be the same as the child-to-staff ratio for infants, ensuring that our 2- and 3-year-olds receive the individualized attention they deserve. In addition, the bill also requires providers to complete CPR and first aid training within 30 days of employment and requires providers to be at least 18 years of age. We hope that the return of these basic health and safety guidelines will give our children what they need and offer their parents peace of mind.

Parents are working hard to provide the best opportunities for their children. We must do the same for their sake, and the sake of our state. More than 60 percent of moms and 90 percent of dads have a career outside the home – on top of raising their children. It is clear that we need child care that works for Maine parents and children without breaking the bank – a place for our children to learn and play while parents work. Join us in standing up for the youngest in our state and fighting for a better future.

 


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