As many of you already know, last March my daughter gave birth to my first grandchild, Evelyn Grace. This has been a really exciting time for our family. But anyone who has raised a child knows it comes with its challenges. Making sure your child (and you) get enough sleep, maintain nutritious diets and so much more, all while trying to balance your time proportionately to life’s demands is no small task.

Joe Rafferty Courtesy photo

Most parents will tell you that the number one challenge they face is a lack of time, something we can all relate to. While we wish we could, especially when they’re young, we can’t spend every second of our days with our kids. This means that parents need to find someone else who they can trust to watch over their most beloved treasure while they are away at work or running errands.

My daughter is lucky to have strong support from her family to watch my granddaughter. But the truth is even with family support to watch after your kids, there are still times when a paid child care provider or after-school care is needed. And there are many families who are not as fortunate to have the support my daughter has who are in even tougher positions.

In Maine, access to child care was a problem before the pandemic, but like a lot of issues it has only become worse since. A recent report from the Council for A Strong America provides some alarming data that confirms how bad this problem has become. Since the beginning of the pandemic, Maine has lost 141 of our licensed child care providers. To make matters worse, the centers that remained open are still left with even fewer openings for new kids to care for because of staffing shortages.

As a result, too many Maine families can’t find a child care center with the availability to meet their needs. When this happens, family budgets get squeezed even tighter. In my opinion, no parent should ever have to consider cutting back their work hours or trimming their budgets to ensure their kid has the care they need. Instead, Maine should be embracing and supporting child care at every opportunity.

I have always said that when we invest in our kids we are investing in our future as a society. The data shows that children who have access to quality early childhood education are far more likely to pursue a higher degree or technical job training. Making this investment creates a positive domino effect on both our society and our economy.

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As your state senator, I want to make Maine as family-friendly as I can. That’s why last year, my colleagues and I voted in favor of a bill that will expand access to child care by opening more slots. I’m proud to say that this bill became law. As a result of its passing, quality child care centers work together with the state to hire and train new staff so that they can handle a higher volume of children without sacrificing the quality of care.

To go a step further, we made sure to allocate $15 million of federal relief dollars in last year’s state budget dedicated specifically to create a new grant program that will fund the new construction or renovations of child care facilities in need. Similarly, we created another grant program designed to increase the overall number of child care facilities in Maine. There is still work to be done and change takes time, but I am confident we are headed in the right direction to support Maine families.

As always, if you or your family need help finding resources, please visit 211maine.org, or reach out to my office at any time.

You can send me an email at [email protected] or reach me by phone at 207-590-9902. You can also reach my office at 207-287-1515. If you want to stay even more up to date on what we’re working on in Augusta, sign up for my newsletter at mainesenate.org.

Joseph Rafferty is a member of the Maine State Senate representing District 34, Acton, Kennebunk, Lebanon, Moody, North Berwick, Wells, West Lebanon and part of Berwick. He can be reached at [email protected]

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