The Editorial team at the Bangor Daily News (BDN) held onto my recently published Op-Ed just long enough to put out an opposing editorial of their own, one that makes the same meaningless, emotional arguments on child care and offers no long-term solution to Maine’s child care shortage.
The BDN attacked LD 1474, a measure that would allow providers to watch more children in their home without a license. In Maine, a person can provide care for only two children before they are required to obtain a license. Most states do not require certification until a provider cares for three or four children. The passage of this measure would instantly make child care more accessible in Maine.
The BDN also asserts this same bill would limit parents’ ability to find out about complaints and investigations related to their child care provider. This is also untrue. Evidence found on-site related to criminal behavior like child abuse and neglect would still be posted for public consumption. Another bill gives providers two weeks to rectify minor licensing disputes after inspections before the information is posted publicly online. The law includes this two-week grace period because dozens of providers have been cited for offenses like having “hazardous substances” within the reach of children, when in reality it was merely a bottle of dish soap next to the kitchen sink. Minor offenses like this are currently posted online without explanation or meaningful recourse for providers.
While acknowledging the alarming decline of child care, particularly among family providers, across the state between 2007 and 2016, the BDN asserts that excess regulation was not responsible for most of the closures, citing a 2015 survey commissioned by Maine’s Department of Health and Human Services. What they failed to mention was that the study only captures providers who left the profession between 2014 and 2015; it does not capture the nearly 400 providers who left before the study was commissioned between 2007 and 2014.
Additionally, 57 percent of survey respondents chose “other” when asked why they no longer provide care. Not only should there be follow up on what “other” means when 57 percent of your survey respondents select this option, Maine DHHS clearly has no idea why these providers are leaving or their survey would have included the reasons respondents chose “other.” I’m willing to bet it has a lot to do with unfair postings on Maine’s official child care website, which is, in fact, a recently added regulation.
The BDN also points out that while the number of in-home providers is declining, there has been an increase in the number of larger child care centers to offset this loss. As I mentioned in my Op-Ed, the licensed capacity of these facilities does not reflect current occupancy. During my time working on child care bills this session, I have personally met several providers who have licensed capacities far greater than their current occupancy, including a provider in Portland who cares for just six children in a facility that can serve 80. Regulations are what prevent her from taking on more children and hiring more staff, because caring for more children and employing more workers to fit state ratios eventually makes her operation unprofitable when compounded with other regulatory hurdles.
Instead of fostering a regulatory environment that gives providers – trained, licensed professionals – the flexibility they need to meet the needs of their communities, the BDN wants Maine to backtrack to policies that increase government dependency. They want more taxation and spending for subsidy and voucher programs rather than free-market solutions.
Common sense answers to Maine’s child care shortages, like LD 1474, compromise the quality of child care in Maine, according to the BDN. However, the Editorial team failed to provide a single shred of evidence explaining how the enactment of LD 1474 would reduce the quality of child care in Maine.
Fourteen states permit staff to watch more infants than Maine’s ratios allow. Twenty-eight states allow staff members to supervise more toddlers and school-age children than Maine. Twenty-five states have less restrictive ratios in place for preschool-age children. Children in these states are not at greater risk of death, serious injury, neglect or abuse because of these rules, and they still receive quality services.
Based on the logic employed in the BDN’s editorial, only children living in states with restrictive child care rules can grow up to successful. Children in other states cannot be set on a “positive trajectory for life” because their child care rules are not as stringent as Maine’s, and therefore not “high-quality.”
Conforming to national practices in child care does not compromise the quality of service. It brings Maine in line with other states where services are more affordable and accessible.
Perhaps the BDN will change its tune when a few hundred more providers leave the profession.