This past August, my son’s child care program announced significant staffing shortages. In response, they needed to reduce care from five days a week to four and increase our fees.

The program has been operating with no margin for error. We just got news that another teacher is leaving because of family needs. This resulted in consolidating classrooms of different ages. With no relief, teachers are burned out or unable to take sick leave without closing classrooms. And parents are stressed.

Unfortunately, this is not an uncommon story. Child care programs across the country are in crisis. Despite being indispensable to working families with young children, child care workers are chronically undervalued, underpaid, and under-supported. As a result, parents are regularly left scrambling to find care or take time off when child care programs reduce the level of care they can safely provide – or close their doors altogether.

Data shows that families are paying 20 percent or more of their median family income on child care, essentially taking on a second house payment. However, the true cost of care is even more than what parents can afford. Child care programs often operate their infant and toddler classrooms at a loss, hoping to make up the difference through their pre-K programs.

It’s time to ask ourselves why we have allowed the child-care system in America to become this broken. We expect high-quality, affordable education for children from K-12. Why, given the critical development that happens in children during early childhood, don’t we have the same expectations for families with children under age 5?

Efforts to address this systemic problem have been mostly insufficient stop-gap measures. In Maine, an Early Childhood Workforce Salary Supplement Program was established to address challenges in the child-care workforce. While it’s a step in the right direction, this program only gives early childhood educators $200 per month on top of a $29,450 median annual salary. With the rising cost of living in Maine, this is a drop in the bucket. Additional funding will be available to licensed child-care providers in Maine starting in October, based on capacity, and is set to end in May 2023. This will help, given that programs are not providing care at full capacity, but we need a long-term funding solution.


At the federal level, Congress has a proposal to expand the Child Care and Development Block Grant. If it passes, these programs should specifically invest in raising the wages for early childhood educators, allowing them to earn a living wage and build a well-respected career path. But after Congress failed to invest in child care through the Inflation Reduction Act (despite evidence of overwhelming need), skepticism about the likelihood of federal action is warranted.

As we head into the midterms, I want to hear more from Maine’s candidates about their plans to expand support for early childhood educators and programs. I want to hear from unions and labor advocates about the importance of child care to their membership. And I want to hear from employers about how they will invest in their working families. While not all employers have the financial means to provide on-site child care, they have options: They can provide child-care benefits; they can pool resources with other businesses to establish co-op on-site or near-site child care; they can provide child-care stabilization funding to neighborhood programs by securing spots for their employees; and they can offer paid emergency child-care services through established providers.

Access to child care is a cross-sector issue affecting every working family I know. Early childhood educators are the foundation of our economy, allowing parents like myself to work to provide for my own family – yet the educators who care for my child eight hours a day, five (now four) days a week are unable to save for retirement or build a sustainable career.

They deserve better, working parents deserve better and our children deserve better. It’s time to fix our system of child care.

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