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New analysis counts 280 fewer child care facilities in Maine over two-year period

Volunteer Patsy Ciampi and teacher Matthew Little-Farmer at Catherine Morrill Day Nursery in Portland in May.
Rebecca Conley
Maine Public
Volunteer Patsy Ciampi and teacher Matthew Little-Farmer at Catherine Morrill Day Nursery in Portland in May.

Maine ended last year with 280 fewer child care facilities compared to two years ago.

That's according to new analysis from the Bipartisan Policy Center, which paints a murky picture of the state of child care in Maine.

While the number of facilities has dropped, child care centers have increased the number of licensed spots for children in Maine by nearly 11% over the last two years, according to the BPC study.

Tara Williams, executive director of the Maine Association for the Education of Young Children (Maine AEYC), said many large child care centers sought out more licensed spots during the pandemic, but it doesn't mean more families are being served.

"We have several programs across our state, large ones like YMCAs, who are now licensed to serve a couple hundred children, even though on a daily basis they may be serving 50," she said.

Many of these centers are not operating at their full advertised capacity because of workforce challenges.

"Some of them have shortened their hours. Some of them have had to remove a day that they were open. Many have closed classrooms. Or they take fewer kids," she said. "But by and large they've reported that the majority of programs cannot serve anywhere near their licensed capacity."

The Maine AEYC surveyed child care centers around Maine last year, and 43% of respondents said they were running at or near full licensed capacity.

Williams said Maine should collect data on the number of children enrolled at facilities across the state, which she believes would better illustrate unmet child care needs.

The Bipartisan Policy Center analysis found that Aroostook County faced the largest unmet child care gap.

"That lines up with what we've been hearing from families, not only child care programs but also school district leaders over the last few years," Williams said. "It's gotten to the point in some areas of our state, including parts of northern Aroostook County, where businesses, employers and school district leaders not only notice it, but it's affecting their ability to function."