Few public policy issues attract as much agreement as the importance of quality child care.

We have heard from psychologists, whose research shows that trauma and stress as early as infancy can have later-in-life effects including learning disabilities, mental illness or even suicide.

Educators report that children who are prepared to learn when they enter kindergarten are set up for success in school, work and life, while those who are not prepared may never catch up.

And business groups say that parents who can rely on a quality child care provider are good employees in an economy with a chronic worker shortage, a condition that has been exacerbated by the COVID pandemic.

But despite all this agreement, parents still say that good, safe child care is hard to find in Maine, especially in rural areas. And if they can find it, it costs too much – more than $11,000 a year for an infant, according to a 2018 Department of Health and Human Services market survey.

With 70 percent of Maine children living in homes where all the parents work, a shortage of quality child care options is a problem not just for the families who need it, but for the whole state as well.

Creating more child care options is the motivation behind a bill before the Legislature this year that should be made law. L.D. 1712, sponsored by Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, would build on the experience of a child care program in Somerset County that has had success in a part of the state with some of the most difficult challenges.

The federally funded Elevate Maine Skowhegan invests in child care centers, family day cares and parents, providing them with coaching, mentoring and educational opportunities.

The program succeeds in creating rich environments for children to learn, as well as offering hands-on learning opportunities for students in preprofessional programs at a community college or university. Child care is not baby-sitting. Making child care a viable career would do a lot to eliminate the child care deserts in rural areas.

The program has also created lines of communication between child care providers and the local school system so children are not unknown quantities when they finally show up for their first day of kindergarten.

This gives schools an opportunity to make early special education interventions, when they can make a biggest difference. Maine has the highest rate of school-age children receiving special education services, but a very low rate of infants being diagnosed with special needs.

Well trained childcare providers would identify special needs earlier, so the children receive appropriate care and avoid gaps in their education.

This program should be offered statewide, and that’s what L.D. 1712 would do. The free market for child care is not working. If Maine wants to build its workforce and make sure that every child has a chance to succeed, we are going to have to start investing in families.

Everyone agrees that high-quality child care is the key to our future. Now it’s time to do something about it.


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