The recent release of the 2023 Kids Count Data Book by the Maine Children’s Alliance has garnered much media attention, and rightfully so. It includes droves of information about Maine’s youth that help us identify problems and form solutions that benefit children, parents and the economy as a whole.

In this year’s book, it’s noted that family child care providers are closing their doors at an alarming rate. Since 2013, Maine has lost 39% of family providers, undermining accessibility and affordability across the state.

Maine Policy identified this trend in 2018, when we published an analysis that found that, since 2008, Maine had lost 25% of all providers, and each county had lost more than one-fifth of family providers. The data are more troubling today. Since 2008, every county has lost at least 36% of family providers, while Hancock, Knox, Lincoln, Waldo and York counties have lost more than half.

Unfortunately, the data book is light on solutions that would cure the problems that the Maine Children’s Alliance, lawmakers and regulators created in the first place. If these actors could have their way, there would be no more private child care in Maine – no entrepreneurs running day cares out of their homes. Instead, children could attend only Head Start or state-subsidized child care centers.

Over the last couple decades, the regulatory record shows more rules are being added to the books in the name of “quality” while the number of providers – particularly family providers – disappears. That’s a problem for two reasons.

First, child care is subject to market forces like supply and demand. If demand for services holds steady or increases while supply shrinks, costs inevitably go up. Second, family child care is the most affordable care environment for families with young children.


In 2021, the average annual cost of child care for a toddler in family care was $7,800, versus $11,284 in center-based care, a 36% savings. For an infant in center-based care, the cost is a staggering $11,960 – more expensive than in-state tuition at the University of Maine – versus $8,580 in family care, a 32% savings.

Rules like qualifications for providers, staff-to-child ratios and other structural, observable qualities of a care environment tend to significantly increase costs for providers – and, thus, consumers – without improving the interactions between children and caregivers. More than 200 pages of regulations govern family child care, child care centers and nursery schools in Maine.

Maine is increasingly becoming a child care desert. But this isn’t surprising in examining the regulatory trends. When the parent down the street who has been watching children out of their home for decades is no longer “qualified” to provide care, or the compliance costs are so high that they’ve simply closed their doors, you’ve got a real problem on your hands.

Interestingly, while family providers leave the profession, the number of available slots for care has increased, though marginally. The problem, however, is that the industry is consolidating into center-based care, the most expensive option. With fewer family providers in rural areas, parents must make long commutes out of their way and pay a steep premium if they can find care at all.

Thus, it isn’t a solution to call for more regulations followed by subsidies and wage stipends – to alleviate the cost burdens posed by overregulation – which are what decimated this industry in the first place. Throwing money at something for the sake of it never solves the problem.

The solution is to eliminate unnecessary rules that have reduced the number of providers and driven up the cost of care.

Most states let someone watch more children in their home before needing a license than Maine does, and most states have more relaxed child-to-staff ratios than we enforce. If Maine simply adopted rules in line with national norms, the number of providers and available slots would immediately increase without undermining health and safety.

Parents simply want a safe place to bring their kids where they can interact with others, play, learn and grow. Child care need not be a wing of the education system in order to meet this basic need of parents.

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