Starting Strong Receives First4ME Funding for Child Care Pilot Program in Portland Program to Increase Early Care Enrollment for Families Experiencing Homelessness and Other Hardship
Starting Strong, a network of community partners supporting increased access to child care and early childhood education in Portland, has been granted $2.85 million over three years to develop a pilot program that will increase child care and pre-K enrollment rates for children experiencing hardship. The Portland Pilot Program, funded by First4ME, will focus on a two-generation approach to supporting children and their families while also providing early childhood educators with support to maintain and improve program quality.
First4ME is a community-based approach to improving access to quality early care and education, with a focus on children and families who often experience barriers to high quality child care. Starting Strong is one of only four First4ME grantees in the state. The other contractors are Aroostook County Action Program, York County Community Action Corporation, and the Lewiston/Auburn Chamber of Commerce.
According to Katie Soucy, director of Starting Strong, “We are pleased to receive the First4ME grant, which will allow us to develop a pilot program to increase the number of children who are able to attend high quality child care programs and pre-K. We are focused on children and families who are experiencing hardship, including homelessness and/or other critical risk factors. Without specialized resources and support – financial and otherwise – they would find child care and pre-K inaccessible and unaffordable.”
In Portland, children and families experiencing homelessness have grown exponentially over the past few years. Portland Public Schools reported that as of April 2023, there were 607 students experiencing homelessness, or approximately 9% of the student population – a dramatic increase from 341 in 2022 and 245 in 2021. In the public pre-K, 46 accepted students were homeless with six additional unhoused children on the waitlist.
The First4ME pilot program is funded for three years to allow Starting Strong to hire staff and provide stipends and other support for families and child care providers. Participating Portland providers include Portland Public Schools, The Opportunity Alliance, Youth and Family Outreach, Children’s Odyssey, Catherine Morrill Day Nursery, as well as a cohort of family child care providers to be onboarded in 2024.
About Starting Strong
Starting Strong is a network of early childhood educators, parents, service providers, health professionals, funders, business leaders, and other community members working together to ensure all children in Portland establish the building blocks for a lifetime of learning. Starting Strong is the early age component of Portland ConnectED, a community-wide partnership that works to ensure the success of every child from cradle to career.
Administered by the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, First4ME was included in LD 1712 (2021), “An Act to Support Children’s Healthy Development and School Success,” to provide quality early care and education to promote a healthy, positive transition to kindergarten for children and families. The program funds four community contractors in Maine, including Starting Strong, to convene efforts to provide intensive support to child care providers, school districts, families, and children with a focus on families that are experiencing hardship. The program is expected to impact 600 children and families statewide, including 217 in Portland. The pilot programs will also serve to demonstrate how both an efficient system of coordinated resources for all community stakeholders and high-quality childcare can support a strong workforce in the short and long term.
Michelle Morel, President