LEWISTON—On Thursday, September 21 at 10:00 AM at the YWCA in Lewiston, the Maine Children’s Alliance (MCA) and Maine Women’s Policy Center (MWPC) released a new report: Investing in our Future: How Maine Can Prepare our Children to Become Tomorrow’s Leaders. The report highlights the experiences of Maine parents who are trying to access early childhood programs or find quality, affordable child care while they work or go to school. It outlines a number of strategies, that when implemented together, have the potential to transform Maine’s early childhood system and lead us into a more prosperous future.
“Maine’s early childhood system is not working for Maine children, parents or providers and that’s a problem that ultimately affects Maine’s schools, businesses, communities and economy,” said Claire Berkowitz, executive director of the Maine Children’s Alliance. “As a state, we need to examine our early childhood system and make serious, comprehensive changes to support our young children, their parents and providers.”
MCA and MWPC spoke with more than one hundred parents as well as child care providers to better understand the experiences of the Mainers, whose needs are not being met by Maine’s early childhood system. Their stories are consistent with the data is telling us. As a result, the report relies on personal stories, research and evidence-based practice to make targeted policy recommendations to strengthen Maine’s early childhood system so enables children, families and early childhood professionals to reach their full potential.
Katrina Hoop, a parent from Portland, shared her story in the report and at the press conference. “Even if you’re lucky to get a child into a wonderful place to grow – concern over hours and affordability are always ever present. If you’re not lucky and have to place your child in a substandard environment, you take a big risk with a heavy heart.”
The report highlights the stark gaps in the early childhood system that adversely affect the lives of many Mainers and prevents them from ever getting ahead. Key challenges include: a lack of availability and high cost for infant care, Head Start programs in Maine only serve a third of all eligible children and families, and the state needs to increase reimbursement rates to all providers so early learning professionals can earn better wages.
Kathy Durgin-Leighton, the executive director of the YWCA in Lewiston, shared her experiences with these challenges as a child care provider.
“Providing quality child care comes at a cost that most families simply can’t afford. Providers need our government to invest in child care providers by paying realistic reimbursement rates and simplifying the process families go through to qualify for help. We do all we can to support families through the process, but what we really need are policies that make it easier for families to get the help they need and providers to be compensated at realistic rates. The system we have now isn’t working for parents or providers.”
Advocates are urging lawmakers and leaders to think about the type of comprehensive early childhood system Maine needs so our children get what they need from birth through adulthood; as the following excerpt from the report states:
“Children who grow into adults ready to manage life’s challenges and fully contribute to their communities are a product of physical, cognitive, and emotional readiness that begins in their earliest years.”
“Research tells us that quality early childhood programs make a real difference for children, for our schools, and for our economy,” said Eliza Townsend, executive director of the Maine Women’s Policy Center. “Maine’s children are our future. Our current system isn’t working so it’s urgent that we fix it.”
Townsend went on to note, “The path forward is clear and that’s why we’re excited to share these policy solutions. We have identified clear steps Maine leaders can take now that will give Maine kids what they need for success, help parents–especially moms–participate in the workforce, and ensure we have workers for the businesses of tomorrow.”
While it will take vision and leadership to create an integrated early childhood system that works for everyone, MCA and MWPC look forward to working with partners, parents, providers and elected leaders who want to advance meaningful change.
Investing in our Future: How Maine Can Prepare our Children to Become Tomorrow’s Leaders was made possible by the John T. Gorman Foundation, the Betterment Fund, the Bingham Program, the Broad Reach Fund of the Maine Community Foundation, and a generous supporter.