WATERVILLE — An early childhood education and care center at the Maine Children’s Home for Little Wanderers will have to scale back its services by summer if it does not receive funding help, according to the Children’s Home’s executive director.

Richard Dorian said last week that The Children’s Place Early Care and Education Center, which serves 53 children ages 6 weeks to 5 years, has not been able to find a grant partner or funding from the state or federal government to help sustain it and help parents who might not be able to afford the weekly rates, which are due to rise in February.

“Our board made the difficult decision that if we can’t identify significant funding by summer, we will have to shrink the early care program and go from serving up to 53 to 24,” Dorian said.

The average weekly cost for a child to attend the center is $320, which is more than what most families can afford. The agency has filled the gap for many years through fundraising and unrestricted use of endowment funds.

The Children’s Home budget approved for 2019 calls for increasing the weekly rates in February and possibly closing one preschool program and restructuring classrooms to serve only 24 children starting in July.

Dorian said that with fewer children being served, employees would have to be cut as well.

The Children’s Home, a private nonprofit organization, has subsidized the Children’s Place to the tune of about $200,000 per year for 10 years.

“For the long term, it’s just not sustainable for us to continue to keep doing that,” Dorian said.

Sarah Staffiere has two children who attend the program, one of whom has been enrolled in The Children’s Place for five years.

Staffiere said she and her husband and several other families have been brainstorming ways to keep their children and staff at the center, which has been like family to their daughter, 2, and son, 5.

“We’ve reached out to countless community members, organizations and even the governor, all while working full time and caring for our children as they face this stressful transition. It certainly would be doing an incredible disservice to the children of Waterville to lose the opportunity to grow and learn under the brilliant care from these committed women without exhausting every possibility first.”

Staffiere said she and her husband are middle-income, working parents who went through the challenge five years ago of finding a place for their son, who was a baby at the time, and they fell in love with the staff at The Children’s Place and later enrolled their daughter, now 2.

“When my son faced a life-threatening health crisis over a year ago, the teachers and the amazing director, Mandi Howard, were my lifeline,” Staffiere said. “Now we are facing an impossible situation of finding another caregiver in a community with a real shortage of options, especially ones like The Children’s Place that hold such high educational standards and are able to accommodate my son’s ongoing medical needs.”

The Staffieres are not alone.

Tracye Fortin, director of child and family services programs for both the Kennebec Valley Community Action Program and early childhood education program Educare Central Maine, said inadequate funding for quality early childhood education is a widespread problem, and not just in the Waterville area.

“Educare, as well as the Maine Early Learning Investment Group, have worked with advocacy groups to provide data and information to help educate as to what the need is, because it’s absolutely not a central Maine issue – it is absolutely a state issue,” Fortin said Thursday.

Amy Calder can be contacted at 861-9247 or at:

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