FAIRFIELD — Fairfield town officials believe that day care is much more than just baby-sitting, and to prove it, on Monday they kicked off Child Care Awareness Week, an action they hope will leverage $50,000 in state funds to provide day care assistance for low-income residents.
Quality child care in Fairfield was first given priority by town officials a year ago, when the Fairfield Child Care Task Force was formed. The child care system is the third-largest business in the state, and officials here recognized that it is a large contributor to Fairfield’s economic base.
State Rep. Paul Tessier praised Fairfield’s efforts Monday during the kickoff event.
“I believe too many elected officials fail to see the true value of quality child care,” he said, adding that the saying “Children are our future” is not a cliche in Fairfield — it is a cause for action.
One of the motives for the town’s Child Care Awareness Week is to gather public particiption as part of the town’s grant proposal submission. The town is seeking $50,000 in child care voucher funds through a competetive state Community Development Block Grant. This will augment $100,000 for vouchers, already committed by Kenebec Valley Community Action Program. The vouchers could be used by low-income families to help them pay for day care services.
“The ability to afford quality child care impacts people’s ability to work, and in return, provides work,” Patti Wooley of KVCAP said Monday.
Tessier agreed. While in the U.S. Army, he supervised 35 child care facilities spread across northern Germany.
“I quickly learned the value of day care to employers,” he said. “Workers are much more productive if they are not worrying about consistent or quality day care.
“We are seeing the beginnings of some on-site day care by some of Maine’s larger companies, but we have a very long way to go. Too many employees overlook this as a valuable asset,” Tessier said.
Town Manager Terry York said Monday that FFCCTF — a cooperative of representatives of town government, SAD 49, KVCAP, Catholic Charities of Maine, Child Care Options and licensed day care providers — originally got together to find out how they could expand child care services in Fairfield.
“But we quickly discovered that there were plenty of openings in local day care businesses. It was the cost that our people couldn’t afford,” York said.
So the group reversed itself and began focusing on funding options for day care. Through a 1997 survey, FFCCTF discovered there were about 100 child care slots in town and 100 families on a waiting list for subsidies.
The group agreed that the biggest child care problem in Fairfield was the lack of subsidy money for low-income parents. Although SAD 49 serves 120 children through two programs — day care for preschool and kindergarten children and a before- and after-school program for children in grades one through six — the need was greater than the school could serve.
Fairfield’s Economic Director Clyde Dyar said plans are also under way to talk to some of Fairfield’s small businesses in hopes they will create a regional day care to serve their various employees.
“There are many options open to us,” said Dyar.
Also at Friday’s kickoff, statements of support for Fairfield’s efforts were read by representatives for U.S. Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, and U.S. Rep. John Baldacci.
Child care-based events planned for this week in Fairfield include:
6:30-8:30 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 27, a free parent and child care provider workshop, “Talking With Children,” by Martha Naber. This will be held in the town council chambers of the community center, and child care will be provided.
Wednesday, Jan 28, “Snack Attack” sponsored by Catholic Charities of Maine, will provide each day care home with healthy snacks for the children.
9:30-11 a.m. Thursday, Jan. 29, open house at Kennebec Valley Technical College.
10-11 a.m. Thursday, Jan. 29, open house at Head Start at Fairfield Primary School.
10 a.m.- 2 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 29, Parent Child Care Resource Fair, sponsored by Child Care Options, in the council chambers of the community center building.
8-11 a.m. Friday, Jan. 30, open house at SAD 49 day care, Fairfield Primary.
3-5 p.m. Friday, Jan. 30, open house at SAD 49 Before and After program, Benton Elementary.