Despite calls from over 100 parents, providers and advocates to halt the rushed process, DHHS moves ahead with emergency implementation
AUGUSTA—Last week, the Maine Department of Health and Human Services announced the adoption of major substantive changes to Maine’s family child care rules on an emergency basis effective September 20, 2017. The controversial implementation of these rule changes comes even after a group of over 130 parents, providers and advocates filed a petition urging legislative review of the rules.
Maine’s family child care rules are designed to protect and promote the health, safety and basic standard of care for Maine’s young children in family child care homes. The Maine Children’s Alliance (MCA), the Maine Women’s Lobby (MWL) and the Maine Association for the Education of the Young Child (Maine AEYC) agree that the changes to the existing rules would weaken the health and safety standards and the implementation process sets a dangerous precedent for future rule changes.
“MaineAEYC is dedicated to making sure all Maine children have access to quality early care, this includes ones attending family child care settings,” said Anne Adams, board president of the Maine AEYC. “We are disappointed by this latest news and are most concerned with the new rules that could directly affect the safety of children such as the increase in ratio and the removal of their rights.”
“We are also concerned for parents seeking good care for their children. Licensing regulations are a tool for parents to use as they choose care for their child, they rely on them to tell them what quality is. The changes that have occurred take away critical information for a parent to have as well as their right to visit their child at any time during the day. MaineAEYC will not stop advocating for better state regulations across all early care settings.”
To make the major substantive changes to the family child care rules permanent, the Department is required to submit legislation during the next Legislative Session. Lawmakers on the HHS committee will then have an opportunity to review the changes, hold a public hearing and offer amendments to reverse harmful provisions.
The Joint-Standing Committee on Health and Human Services met briefly in July to address the petition and posed several questions to the Department before agreeing to meet in the fall to further discuss these rule changes. Now that the rules have been implemented, the HHS committee will have to decide quickly how to address the growing concerns of parents, providers and advocates.
“We’re disturbed by the many ways these rules undermine the well-being of Maine children and the peace of mind of parents who must rely on child care in order to work or go to school,” said Eliza Townsend, executive director of the Maine Women’s Lobby. “There was no reason for DHHS to rush these rules through as an emergency except to implement them without legislative review. This is not how good policy is made and our children will pay a price for this irresponsible decision by the Administration.”
Some major changes prompting public concern include:
- Removal of the right of the parent to visit and observe the program during hours of operation;
- Increases to staff-child ratio and supervision – important indicators of quality, safe care;
- Removal of the “Rights for Children in Family Child Care Programs” section;
- Permitting a caretaker to be employed without CPR and first aid training prior to employment;
- The removal of all language relating to children with disabilities.
“We know from research that quality child care is important for children to succeed,” said Rita Furlow, senior policy analyst at the Maine Children’s Alliance. “By age four and a half —just as they are preparing to enter kindergarten—children who experience high-quality child care demonstrate stronger pre-academic, language, and social skills than their peers who experienced low-quality child care.”
“It is disappointing to see the research and science about what is best for children ignored by the Department. These rules will lower the quality of care experienced by Maine children and are a step backwards for Maine’s future.”
In Maine, the need for child care is high. Over two-thirds of Maine children under that age of six have all parents in the workforce and are likely in need of child care. Maine’s family child care rules provide a base set of standards for the over 1,000 family child care home providers serving an estimated 11,000 Maine children. Changes to these rules directly affect the thousands of Maine families who rely on family child care homes and the providers striving to offer a set standard of care.