I’ve seen the difference it makes when the adults in a child’s life do whatever it takes to support that child’s learning during a crucial time for his or her development. Sadly, Maine’s current policies make it more difficult for parents and child care providers to provide that enriching environment for kids. Legislators need to make child care a priority in order to support healthy development for our kids and a healthy future for our state.
The 11 years I spent working for the Infant Parent Early Intervention Program in Austin, Texas, gave me great respect for child care providers who are underpaid and undervalued. As an occupational therapist, I worked with infants and toddlers up to age 3 in their homes, at preschools, at home-based family child care businesses and at larger child care centers.
I saw many examples of adults going above and beyond to ensure the children they worked with had the support they needed so they could learn. One home child care provider with whom I worked rearranged lunch time for the older children so the mother of a baby with delays in developing motor skills could meet with me and the child care provider during her lunch hour. They were able to follow through with activities at home and at day care to help the baby develop head control on her tummy and the ability to roll.
Another example I saw of an exceptional commitment to children was a preschool teacher who learned Baby Signs and other hand signals to help a child with Down Syndrome communicate with adults and the other children.
More recently, I have joined the child care team through Faith Linking in Action, a group of Bangor-area congregations, people of faith, child care professionals, parents and others who are focused on the reasons why people become stuck in poverty.
Our team has talked to parents and child care providers to learn about their experiences with child care subsidies available through the state whose purpose is to defray child care expenses for low-income families.
Low-income parents struggle to find child care providers who will accept the subsidy, and they become frustrated with the lengthy application process. One child care provider told us about a mother who applied for the subsidy a month before she was to return to work, but she had not heard anything from the state Department of Health and Human Services as her return date approached. The child care provider, who cared for the mother’s older children, offered to call the local DHHS office on the parent’s behalf. A supervisor found the application, which had not been processed. It was as if the application for a subsidy, which this mother needed in order to afford child care, had been locked in a file cabinet, the child care provider said. Without the provider’s help, nothing would have been done.
The current subsidy reimbursement rate at the 50th percentile of the local market rate — meaning child care providers who accept subsidized children accept a payment rate that’s squarely in the middle of the market — discourages providers and parents. Many providers refuse to accept children with subsidies. As the Bangor Daily News has reported, this prevents many low-income parents from getting into the workforce.
There are several actions Maine legislators, DHHS and Congress could take to make child care more affordable.
In the Maine Legislature, lawmakers could pass LD 1475, An Act to End Child Poverty by Leveraging Investment in Families Today, which would increase the reimbursement rates to child care providers who accept subsidies and also provide a range of supports to help families climb out of poverty.
Lawmakers could also pass recommendations from the Committee on Background Checks for Child Care Providers, making more funds available by having Maine fully comply with federal background check requirements for child care workers.
The Department of Health and Human Services could simplify the application process for parents needing child care subsidies.
And Congress could pass the Promoting Affordable Child Care for Everyone (PACE) Act, which would expand the reach of the child care tax credit by making it refundable, allowing lower-income families to benefit from a credit aimed at defraying child care expenses. Maine Sen. Angus King is sponsoring this legislation, and Sen. Susan Collins has signed on as a cosponsor.
If we care about children we must care about child care.
Rosalyn Fisher of Bangor is a retired occupational therapist with over 40 years of experience working with children who had delays or disabilities. She is a member of the Faith Linking in Action Child Care Team.