September 21, 2018
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Maine needs affordable child care, but eroding safety standards is the wrong response

George Danby | BDN
George Danby | BDN
By Karen Bruder, Special to the BDN

As a small-business owner and passionate child advocate, I am very troubled by proposals to strip away child care regulations, ignoring the safety of our children. While early childhood educators like myself are concerned with the quantity of available child care openings, we do not place this above the safety of the programs being offered or the caliber of the individuals with whom we entrust our state’s most precious resource — our children.

Regulations protect children and promote healthy child development with the oversight of early childhood professionals who truly want and love to be with children and not those who simply need a job. Deregulation of early care and education programs will only open the door for abuse of the industry and potentially children.

Deregulation is not necessary to make child care affordable and accessible to all families. Rather than reducing regulations that protect children, the state should to step in and support programs that meet criteria as defined by Maine’s own quality rating and improvement system in order to protect and expand available openings.

Reliable, affordable child care is crucial for Maine parents who must work in order to provide for their families. It is not regulations that are limiting their options. It is the lack of policies and budget priorities that support the growth of the industry. For instance, the state has left millions in federal child care funds unspent in recent years.

Early childhood programs are not inexpensive to operate. Yet, the cost per hour families pay for a child to be cared for in a quality program can be a little more than the cost of a McDonald’s Happy Meal. From this, I must for pay wages and payroll taxes, a mortgage, insurance, utilities, materials, supplies and more.

Each year, I cringe as I create the next year’s budget knowing that increased costs and wages mean communicating a 3 percent to 5 percent increase to my families. When a person can close their program and work for a grocery or fast-food chain for more money per hour and have medical, dental and retirement benefits, why would that person choose to run a child care program in their own home? Most parents cannot afford to pay more.

Our industry is a public-private partnership, and public investment is not holding up its end of the partnership by allowing federal monies to be left unspent. It is time that we begin respecting the industry and stop expecting to pay as little as possible for care and education of our youngest children.

The scope of my work far exceeds providing the minimum requisite care for a child while awaiting a parents’ return. I hope that parents and policymakers will recognize that I support children’s progression toward competency. I support the development of children as a whole: socially, emotionally, physically and intellectually.

While parents work, I create intentional opportunities for children to increase independence, self-direction and self-discipline. I teach accountability for oneself and one’s actions and the importance of empathy. I expand children’s world of experiences, and I am instrumental in their developing a love of learning. I nurture and love children, and when they are sick, sad, hurt or lonely, I provide comfort. Most importantly, I model and teach kindness, manners and respect.

If we would like to see change in the early care and education community, whether center based or home based, we must regard work with children and families with veneration and appreciation. Only then we will see growth in the industry. If legislation is passed that does not respect the children it seeks to serve, how are parents supposed to respect our work?

As a professional educator for nearly 30 years, I have taken every opportunity to educate those around me of the value of my work with children. Many of the proposed changes under consideration in the Legislature seek to abolish necessary safeguards. These safeguards are in place to protect our children and prevent those who merely wish to warehouse children for profit from entering this industry and putting children at risk for personal gain. The proposed legislation will do nothing to improve quality and further undermine the significance, value and impact of my work with children and families in Maine.

Karen Bruder is an early childhood educator and founding director of Tender Years Learning Center. She lives in Cumberland.

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