Improving Early Childhood in Maine means thinking about children, their families and their communities.

A snapshot from the 2016 Maine Children’s Convention.

“We have to remember that the child is part of the family, the family is part of the community, and the community is part of the state.” – Marjorie Withers

When our children thrive, our state thrives, so when we improve systems and structures for our children, we all benefit – our community, our state and even our economy. That was the major theme that emerged from the 2nd Maine Children’s Convention hosted by the Maine Children’s Alliance earlier this month. With every county represented, parents and guardians, child care and education professionals, as well as state and community advocates and leaders gathered to envision what we could do better to support Maine’s young children and their families.

There was overwhelming agreement among attendees that Maine children do not exist in isolation. They live in families and communities that possess unique strengths, but also face great challenges. As a result, when we think about creating a better Maine for our children, we have to look at the broader picture in which they live. This not only includes obvious policies, programs and systems around child health, child care and early education, but also policies around minimum wage, paid family leave and cash assistance programs.

Small groups discuss their wishes for Maine children.

With this in mind, Marjorie Withers guided us through the day and challenged us to think beyond normal constraints. What do we want to achieve for Maine’s young children? What would we want to create if we were unencumbered by traditional barriers and political obstacles?

The responses were pretty simple. In Maine, we want…

  • all children and families to have basic needs met from hunger to health care;
  • all children and families to feel included and supported in their community;
  • all children and families access to affordable, high-quality child care;
  • all teachers and providers to be rewarded in multiple ways.

It is clear that a robust early childhood system in Maine should support Maine children to grow and have the confidence to do anything.

The next question was not so simple. How do we make this happen?

A parent shares the strengths and challenges families and children experience in Kennebec County.

For the second part of the Convention, attendees worked together to take a deep look at their counties to better understand their strengths and barriers and to identify allies and action steps. Where there are commonalities between communities and counties, there are opportunities to share strategies, provide insight and learn from one another.

However, a one-size fits all solution simply won’t work in all regions. Although Maine only has sixteen counties, each county presents a unique set of strengths and a different set of challenges. These issues must be considered when designing an early childhood system that works for everyone.

Thank you to everyone who joined the Maine Children’s Alliance and other advocates from across Maine to envision what we could do to better support young children and their parents. As we embark on this three- year project to improve the quality of early care and learning experiences for all Maine children, your voice is critical. We look forward to your help in these efforts.

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