The Brunswick Parks & Recreation Department’s new day care program, which will provide up to 50 desperately needed child care slots to Midcoast infants and toddlers, is on track to open by March, according to department staff.
“Everyone we’ve talked to so far has been pumped and excited,” Deputy Director Sabrina Best said. “I think it was pretty obvious our community needed it.”
The number of licensed child care facilities and family child care providers in Maine has declined by nearly 12% since January 2020, according to the Office of Child and Family Services’ Early Childhood Education Data Dashboard.
With fewer child care spots available, many working families have found themselves waiting months to get their kids into local options like the Bath Area Family YMCA’s enrichment preschool program.
“Securing child care for your family should not feel like you’ve won the lottery, and it does right now,” said program Director Annie Colaluca, who said the YMCA’s lengthy waitlist has continued to grow this year. “It’s so hard to find the right place, to find the right fit, for it to be affordable.”
After running a preschool program for decades, Brunswick Parks & Recreation planned to exit the child care world after the school department started its own public program in 2020, Best said.
The state’s Office of Child and Family Services soon pushed the department to address the area’s need for infant and toddler care. Since mid-2021, Family Services has helped Parks & Rec ready its new program by offering tips on necessary modifications to the recreation center as well as funding to pay for upgrades.
Brunswick is expected to be among the first recipients of a one-time, $10,000 grant intended to incentivize recreation departments to start child care programs, according to Jackie Farwell, a Maine Department of Health and Human Services spokesperson.
“This financial support is part of well over $100 million in funding that the Mills Administration has provided for childcare since the onset of the pandemic, helping Maine providers stay open and increase pay for staff, despite the challenges presented by COVID-19,” Farwell wrote in a statement. “OCFS continues to make unprecedented, system-wide improvements that remove barriers to access and ensure that all Maine families have the affordable, safe, and enriching childcare options they need to thrive.”
While retaining child care workers has been increasingly challenging for many providers in recent years, Brunswick Parks & Recreation has already received several strong applicants since listing its program director and six full-time teacher openings earlier this month, Best said.
More than 30 children aged 6 weeks to 3 1/2 years old have reserved spots on the program’s waitlist, which opened to residents on Dec. 13. Non-residents can register their children for the waitlist starting Friday morning.
Tentative pricing for Brunswick infants is $345 per week (7 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Friday) and $305 for toddlers over 1 year old. The department has not determined whether rates for non-residents will increase.
The day care will have capacity for up to 50 children and should be able to open soon after its licensing application is approved in February or March, Best said.
“I think we’re in pretty good shape,” she said. “We’ve got our ducks in a row.”