Finding quality, affordable childcare is a problem all across Maine. For many parents, the cost is a major burden on family finances. And families aren’t the only ones affected – childcare providers, workers, and Maine employers are also feeling the pinch. The federal government suggests that childcare costs should be less than 7% of the average family’s budget, but the reality for most families in Maine is very different. Average childcare costs in Portland are estimated to be $16,381, which exceeds the cost of tuition at the state’s four-year public colleges.
We sat down with Katie Soucy from Starting Strong to learn about options.
How do I find a childcare provider?
Finding a childcare provider can take time, so you should begin looking months ahead of when you would like your child to start. (Even before you welcome a new child into your family!) One resource I am particularly excited about is OEO’s Childcare Journey Map (https://www.portlandofopportunity.com/how-do-i-find-childcare) – which is available in multiple languages. Everyone should check it out! In addition, contact information and quality ratings for all licensed childcare providers can be found at https://www.childcarechoices.me, along with helpful links with suggestions for how to find the best fit for your family. Ultimately, it’s good to schedule a time to meet with a director or teacher, tour the program and learn about their philosophy of care. It’s important to feel comfortable as a parent. Finally, consider putting your name on more than one waitlist – there is definitely a shortage of slots in Maine.
How do I know if I might be eligible for financial support?
Figuring out eligibility for financial support can be so confusing. Different programs have different criteria. I advise people to start with their local HeadStart agency because they can usually help families sort through different programs. Another good place to begin is with the State of Maine’s Child Care Subsidy Program. Applications (and more information) are available at https://www.maine.gov/dhhs/ocfs/ec/occhs/step.htm
Why are waitlists so long?
Waitlists are long because we simply don’t have enough childcare slots to meet the need – especially for infants. Despite the high cost to parents, childcare programs often make very low profits. We have seen a decrease in the number of providers in our community over the years, while simultaneously seeing more and more families with all adults in the workforce. Unfortunately, the pandemic has only worsened the childcare crisis with many providers closing down due to decreased capacity and increased costs.
How can I get involved in the issue of accessible childcare?
The lack of high-quality, affordable childcare is a complex issue. But by working together, we can build a community where children and families from all backgrounds and circumstances have the support they need to meet their full potential. Starting Strong is convening stakeholders to inform and advocate for policies that will help solve this problem. We are especially excited to welcome parents into this work, and have begun hosting regular parent meetings to center parent voices and leadership in our effort. To learn more, please check out our website and join our mailing list: https://www.portlandstartingstrong.org.
Finding affordable and quality care is essential. If you are struggling to find a childcare provider you trust and can afford, you are not alone. Please remember to visit our website to help you navigate this wonderful but stressful time (available in multiple languages!) https://www.portlandofopportunity.com/how-do-i-find-childcare