Caregivers in Maine’s early childhood programs play a critical role in a child’s development by providing them with the essential stable, nurturing relationships and experiences that build a strong foundation for their future. Parents and families place trust in their child care providers to provide a healthy and safe environment for their child to grow and develop.
We all should be able to expect that our state’s licensing regulations for child care programs are working with children’s health and safety in mind. But currently, by failing to require fingerprinting of potential child care employees, state regulations put children at risk.
This is not the case for children in our public school system. We already require fingerprinting of anyone employed in Maine public schools — not just teachers but bus drivers, cafeteria employees, coaches — to protect against anyone who has committed a crime against children being employed in our schools. Why are our youngest children not due that kind of protection?
It seems a bipartisan Congress was considering just that question when they reauthorized the Child Care Development Block Grant, or CCDBG, which provides federal funding for states to improve access to quality child care for high-need children and families. For the first time, this funding comes with the requirement that states implement fingerprinting, and Maine is refusing to do so — and it is the only state refusing to comply. This decision comes with an $800,000 loss of funding — funding intended to be used to offer more children and families access to quality child care. But certainly, the real cost of failing to protect our next generation cannot be quantified.
Fortunately, the Legislature is considering an important bill that would protect Maine’s children in child care by requiring federal background checks using fingerprints for child care employees and volunteers.
Under current licensing regulations, all staff and volunteers must have a background check, which includes a State Bureau of Investigation check and a State Child Protective check — for substantiation of child abuse or neglect. While these are important in protecting children in our care, they do not go far enough. Without fingerprinting, we as child care providers do not have access to the criminal histories of individuals who come to Maine from other states. This is a real problem that leaves our programs and our children extremely vulnerable.
In fact, years ago at another child care center in Portland we hired a staff person who, unbeknownst to us, had a history of crimes against children in another state. Upon this eventual discovery, we quickly implemented a new policy and began fingerprinting all staff and volunteers. But implementing such basic, common-sense protections should not be left to individual providers to decide. All our children in Maine should be equally protected from harm.
At Catherine Morrill Day Nursery, we take our responsibility to provide the safest and healthiest environment for children very seriously and do everything in our power to ensure only highly qualified caregivers and volunteers come into contact with the children in our care. While I recognize fingerprinting potential employees will be an added expense for my program, we cannot put a cost on the health and safety of the children in our care. I cannot understand why Maine would open the doors of child care centers to people who have harmed children in the past. Let’s do everything we can to afford our youngest children the most basic protections.
Lori Moses is executive director at Catherine Morrill Day Nursery in Portland.