Last month MCA hosted a Children’s Convention at Educare Central Maine. During the Convention, attendees participated in facilitated cafe conversations about important issues facing Maine’s children. Below is a summary of the work that was done during the small group sessions.
Since all future development is based on the strength of early foundations, we must ensure that all Maine children aged birth to five have the opportunities for those positive experiences and relationships that are the building blocks for their future success. Children should have increased access to quality programs and more services should be provided to children in those programs and elsewhere. Specifics included:
➢ More State funds for early childhood, i.e., Home Visiting, child care, Head Start, pre-K
➢ Higher payments to programs to expand quality placements available to families;
➢ Better supports for special needs children, including mental health services and aides;
➢ Expanded public school pre-K should be linked with community partnerships;
➢ Equitable funding for schools across the state;
➢ A uniform, statewide school-entry screening process.
We know that the foundations of lifelong health are established in the early years. We now recognize that children living with toxic stress are at a much higher risk for conditions such as cardiovascular disease and obesity. Your suggestions included:
➢ Parent coaching in support of their children’s health;
➢ Education about health, diet, child development, parenting, and involvement in their children’s care and education;
➢ Children’s mental health and the relationship toxic stress;
➢ Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) reauthorization
➢ Family-centered service delivery; and
➢ A more holistic approach to child health.
Family Economic Security
An economy that allows any part of our workforce to fall behind the rest is contrary to our belief that we are “one nation, indivisible.”We are stronger when we have an economy that allows everyone to move in the same direction. Families need help, not just help with the care and education of their children, but also with the stressors in their lives, such as low wages, unemployment, and constantly changing work schedules. The themes that you considered most urgent were:
➢ Changing state spending priorities to emphasize the importance of supporting children and families;
➢ The portrayal of low-income families as irresponsible people willing to subsist on government handouts versus the reality of people struggling to make independent lives for themselves and needing some support;
➢ The need to change our culture and government priorities so that support for families ranks on a par with such budget mainstays as military forces, infrastructure (roads, bridges, public safety), and social security;
➢ Increasing the minimum wage;
➢ Expansion of Medicaid;
➢ Affordable early care and education to support working parents; and
➢ Increasing support for and flexibility in programs such as General Assistance, TANF, child care, transportation, and workplace policies.
Preparing our Students for the Future
When we think about the future of our state, we need to consider what we can do to prepare our young people for both the civic and educational demands of a 21st century economy. The areas of focus relating to education included:
➢ Expand public pre-K, increase local awareness, and include partnerships and collaborations;
➢ Equitable funding across the state for pre-K -12 and state funding at 55%;
➢ A uniform school entry screening process;
➢ Parent engagement and a focus on the family; and
➢ Professional development on the impact of Adverse Childhood Experiences on children.
We shared the work of the convention with the members of the Maine Children’s Growth Council at their September meeting so they could be aware of the issues and concerns that were identified at the Convention.
On September 17, the Start ME Right coalition met in Augusta. We discussed the data from the convention and realized that you had revealed, through your input, a steady erosion of support in Maine for almost all aspects of early childhood, represented by diminishing budgets, elimination of programs, tightening of eligibilities, and tighter interpretations of rules. We have a challenge before us in deciding where to focus our efforts to put system improvements in place. The coalition will continue its work on November 13 as we craft a legislative agenda for 2015.
What you can do
Talk to candidates. Invite them to your programs to learn what you do and to hear about the challenges facing your community’s labor force (your clients). Attend a candidate forum. Many of the forums are sponsored by business groups, such as Rotary clubs and chambers of commerce. As a local business and as an integral part of your community’s business infrastructure, you can participate. Submit a question or two to the organizers, or stand up and let your voice be heard.
In another vein, you can weigh in on proposed program rules relating to the child care subsidy and preschool. Rules for Maine’s Child Care Subsidy Program (DHHS Chapter 6) were announced recently and while the deadline for written comment has passed, a public hearing will be held in the coming weeks or month. The proposed rule can be found on the DHHS website. If you wish to be notified when the hearing is scheduled, contact Timothy Swift at Timothy.Swift@maine.gov. We also expect regulations relating to preschool to be announced by the Department of Education in the next month or so.
Finally, you can use the ideas expressed in this summary to draft a Letter to the Editor to submit to your local paper, urging voters to consider these issues when voting for candidates at the local, state and national level.
Once again, thanks to everyone who attended the convention!