Maine’s ability to fully recover economically from the COVID-19 Pandemic will require the state to ensure more families can access quality child care. That was the message shared today by Maine Senate President Troy Jackson who joined with leaders of the Aroostook County Action Program on the playground outside the Agency’s Early Care and Education Center in Caribou.
The second highest ranking elected official in Maine visited with children and teachers at the center prior to speaking with media on the Kids First Plan he has introduced in the State Legislature. Jackson, an Aroostook County native who serves on the ACAP Board of Directors and who has utilized early childhood education services provided by the agency for his own family, visited the facility in his home district to underscore the especially acute need for more child care services in rural Maine.
"Far too many parents struggle to find a child care facility that is safe, affordable and has open slots for their kids. It’s an even bigger challenge in rural parts of the state, including Aroostook County. That’s why I’ve introduced legislation to expand access to child care by supporting organizations like Aroostook County Action Program, and other providers to open slots, improve quality and support child care workers,” said Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash. “It’s been decades since I’ve had children in child care. However, I still remember how difficult it was to drop my youngest son off at ACAP in Fort Kent so his mother could go to work and I could get my degree. I’m just so grateful that we could count on the extraordinary Head Start teachers to look out for him, keep him safe and teach him the skills he needed for kindergarten and beyond. It’s why I’m so proud to serve on ACAP’s board today and to sponsor LD 1712 so more working families can access quality, affordable child care like mine did.”
Senator Jackson and Maine House Speaker Ryan Fecteau are both leading the effort to win support for the Kids First Plan. Among the two major pieces of legislation that are part of the plan is LD 1712, An Act To Support Children’s Healthy Development and School Success.
The bill, which was voted out of the Health and Human Services Committee on May 26 as “ought to pass”, will now go before the full Legislature. If enacted, it would expand access to quality, affordable child care by investing in child care providers and working with community stakeholders to open slots in existing child care programs through the First 4 ME program administered by DHHS.
Sue Powers, ACAP Director of Programs, a member of the Maine Children’s Cabinet Early Childhood Advisory Council and a well-known statewide advocate for early childhood education, joined Senator Jackson on the playground and underscored the impact of bolstering child care and the ripple effect it has on Aroostook County and the State’s economy.
“Early Childhood Education, and child care specifically, is an issue whole communities need to be concerned about. Foundations built in these early years are the bases for future education and career success,” said Powers. “Child care is not just an issue for parents of young children, but for community employers and service providers. We all need to be concerned about who is caring for the children of our communities and the experiences those children are receiving. First 4 Me is a community based approach to building an early childhood system that will support child care, families and communities leading to stronger futures for all.”
ACAP child care classrooms in Caribou, Houlton and Presque Isle are three of the four Step 4 Quality Certificate holding programs in Aroostook County. Step 4 is the highest level a program/provider can achieve under the Quality for ME voluntary program created by the Maine Department of Health and Human Services.
In an effort to respond to an urgent community need for services caused by the sudden closure of a large child care center in central Aroostook County this winter, ACAP quickly mobilized to add two new child care classrooms, a total of 24 new slots, to its Gouldville Early Care and Education Center in Presque Isle in March. Jackson and Powers both noted that in order for ACAP and other providers to further expand services, and for new centers to open, changes will need to be made to ensure that facilities can operate in a fiscally sound way and offer competitive wages that attract candidates into a growing number of open positions.