Letter: Pandemic reveals we’d like early childhood training, parental assist

After receiving our vaccines, many of us are now thinking about rebuilding our communities, starting with the needs of young children and families. We know that children had unusual childhood, toddler, or preschool experiences during the pandemic – almost or half of their lives! Parents, carers, and young children have all faced difficulties that must be addressed to ensure robust recovery.

Parents have faced difficult decisions about sending young children to school for the first time during a pandemic. As a result, preschool and kindergarten enrollment in Maine declined 16 percent from 2019 to 2020. Over 3,000 children missed early learning, which forms the basis for future growth and learning.

Due to health and safety concerns, fewer childcare workers were available in Maine during the pandemic than in the previous year. while many others were working under capacity due to limitations. Added to this are the costs of safe operation and the financial burden on the childcare system is clear. Kindergarten teachers were an indispensable workforce, even if many also had to look after their own children.

Parents of young children, especially mothers, were more likely to work in professions affected by the crisis and more likely to provide their school-age children with distance learning. The burden of childcare and work administration had an unequal impact: 57 percent of the net job loss in Maine was women. Households headed by single women were exposed to particularly difficult logistical and economic pressures, with no other parent able to help with income or care.

Early childhood education, and the parents and educators who raise the next generation of Mainern, are a public good and should have public investment. With this support, young children benefit from a return to enriching learning environments. Parents can work to support their families; and companies will be able to regain their workforce. The status quo will not be enough. The effects of the pandemic call for a new, resilient support system for families, created with recovery funds and thoughtful legislation that takes the needs of parents and children into account.

More information is available at mainechildrensalliance.org.

Margaret Leitch Copeland,

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