Early Care & Education
This past session, much of our advocacy efforts focused on promoting policies and practices that would benefit young children and their families. We were able to make a strong case for the importance of early intervention in child development. Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle introduced several bills to strengthen Maine’s investment in its youngest citizens.
Rep. Carol McElwee (R-Caribou) sponsored LD 1054, An Act to Provide Funding for Head Start Services which did not become law but helped secure $575,000 of new Head Start funds in the state budget. These funds will be used to draw down additional federal child care funds.
The state budget also improves the Child Care Development Fund (CCDF) program by making childcare voucher payments retroactive to the date a parent applies for the benefit. This change should ensure more child care providers are receiving payments for opening their doors to children and families in need. It also is expected to increase the number of child care facilities willing to accept CCDF vouchers and expand parental options.
Much of the work this session has set the foundation for further policy achievements in the next session. Rep. Aaron Frey (D-Bangor) sponsored LD 977, An Act to Improve Child Care in the State, This legislation would have provided matching funds for the Child Care Development Block Grant (CCDBG), but failed to become law by a single vote. However, both LD 552 on Home Visiting and LD 1267 on working families with young children were held over until next session.
Unfortunately, the FY 2015 State Budget did not include funds for expanded pre-K. Nevertheless, the statutory language remains and we hope to secure the necessary funding in the upcoming sessions.
Lastly, the Education Committee has asked the Department of Education and the Maine Children’s Growth council to establish an ad hoc committee to examine social emotional development in young children.Through MCA’s relationship with the Alliance for Early Success, the Growth Council will work with the Ounce of Prevention, Columbia University’s National Center for Children in Poverty and ZERO TO THREE to come up with policy recommendations for the state of Maine.
In response to the Child Care Development Block Grant (CCDBG) re-authorization in Congress, the Maine Department of Health & Human Services will be revising the program and drafting a new state plan in the upcoming months. The new state plan is due March 1, 2016 and will likely require legislative and/or administrative action next year. MCA will stay engaged in DHHS’ efforts to develop and plan the legislation. The re-authorization includes new federal guidelines and regulations to address the dual purpose of the Child Care Development Fund (CCDF): to promote family economic self-sufficiency by improving the affordability of child care, and by enhancing the overall quality of early learning programs in order to foster healthy child development and school success.The overall goal in re-authorization is to increase CCDF child care access, provide greater protection for child health and safety, and improve quality of care.
In addition to MCA’s advocacy related to early childhood issues, we testified on several bills aimed at improving the status of children’s health in the state of Maine. Given the relationship between oral health and general health and the risks to child development, oral health for mothers and children should be a priority.
Two bills were introduced this session that targeted dental health in young children and for new and expectant mothers. Both LD 771 and LD 917, aimed to increase access to dental service for children and pregnant and postpartum women. While both bills did not become law, MCA will continue advocating for increased access to dental care for low-income children and
their families so that oral and general health are improved in Maine.
Introduced by Rep. Linda Sanborn (D-Gorham), LD 471 An Act to Improve Childhood Vaccination Rates in Maine, sought to encourage informed decision-making in parents regarding vaccinations. Maine has the 7th lowest immunization rate in the country and the 2nd lowest in New England. The bill would have required that a parent receive proper counseling, such as understanding the risks to their child and the community, before choosing not to vaccinate their child. Despite receiving Legislative approval, the bill was vetoed by the Governor.
Family Stability & Child Well-being
Stable Maine families create a stable Maine future. The 127th State Legislature passed two bills that provided much needed updates to existing state family law and child well-being. First, a bill sponsored by Senator Kimberly Rosen (R-Hancock), LD 1017 An Act to Update Maine’s Family Law comprehensively addressed issues involved in determining the legal parentage of a child. Family stability is imperative to creating the best environment for Maine children to grow and develop. The new law draws from both science and national policy trends, putting Maine on the path to secure a more stable future.
Another bill, sponsored by Senator Bill Diamond (D-Windham), LD 199 An Act to Improve the Reporting of Child Abuse, became law. The new law requires a mandated reporter of suspected child abuse to submit their own report to DHHS, rather than reporting through a secondary source. It is our hope that this new law increases early intervention and leads to much better outcomes for children.
Unfortunately, not all child well-being bills experienced the same success. LD 1029 An Act to Improve Maine’s Juvenile Justice System sought to make harmful shackling of children in the juvenile justice system the exception not the rule. The bill would promote more restorative justice programs that are more cost-effective and do not hinder the rehabilitative goals for the juvenile justice system. While the 127th Legislature voted to pass the bill, LD 1029 was ultimately vetoed by the Governor.