Starting Strong Announces Launch of Portland Works for Kids
In advance of the Week of the Young ChildTM, a national event celebrating high-quality early learning from April 11 to 17, Starting Strong announced a new community-wide effort to make high-quality early childhood care and education affordable and accessible to everyone.
Portland Works for Kids has brought together dozens of partners representing all sectors of the community to support this work, including early care and education providers, United Way of Greater Portland’s Women United, the Maine Association for the Education of Young Children, Maine Roads to Quality Professional Development Network, Family Child Care Association of Maine, Greater Portland Workforce Initiative and the Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce.
In recent weeks, the value of early care and education has become top-of-mind for many members of our community, including those who struggle to balance remote working with caring and educating young children at home. While Portland Works for Kids is working to address some of the immediate issues caused by the current crisis, including child care access for essential personnel, the shortage of early childhood care and education is not a new problem in Portland.
Data obtained through a Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce survey conducted in February, prior to the pandemic, shows access to child care is a concern for many employers and employees. Seventy percent of business owners who responded to the survey indicated their employees experienced challenges finding affordable quality child care and 88 percent agreed that increasing access to quality child care should be a priority for our community.
According to Quincy Hentzel, CEO of the Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce, “High quality child care is essential for a vibrant, thriving community. It provides a powerful whole family approach to building the human capital that a prosperous and sustainable community requires. It strengthens the workforce and local economy by allowing parents to work and pay their bills. It also provides young children with experiences that support school readiness and nurture their cognitive, social, and emotional growth.”
The shortage of high-quality child care in Portland – and across Maine – will likely worsen as a result of COVID-19. According to a March survey conducted by the Maine Association for the Education of Young Children, 88% of licensed child care programs that responded said they would not survive or were unsure if they could reopen if they remained closed for one to two months.
Portland Works for Kids is working to address the short- and long-term shortage of high-quality, affordable child care, including advocating for support for providers. Access to early care will help the workforce get back up and running as soon as it is safe. Long-term, research has shown that quality child care yields better academic and social outcomes for children, safer and healthier communities, a better prepared future workforce, and less spending on social services.