A problem we all share

Young children and families in Waldo County are struggling. That’s the message early childhood educators and caregivers are trying to get across to local politicians and lawmakers.

At a forum at the end of October, a group gathered to talk about not only the professional challenges they face but also the personal challenges of young families. Children who are not old enough to attend school often are living in poverty, lack access to health care and transportation, and are exposed to parental substance abuse and/or depression. These adverse experiences can lead to behavior problems or developmental delays in children.

While there are a variety of assistance programs available, accessing them requires transportation, a computer, or internet access many struggling families can’t afford. Those fortunate enough to be employed must somehow find a way to afford childcare so they can continue to work. Many providers say parents can’t afford the cost of care, which in some cases can be as much as college tuition. In other cases, the children are instead being raised by grandparents, or even great-grandparents with rising health care costs of their own.

These families’ basic needs — food, clothing, heat, medical and dental care — are being covered by a patchwork of community groups and churches, as well as state and federal assistance programs. And sometimes it's the luck of the draw. Some families fare better than others when navigating complex forms. Some don't apply for assistance at all. Some apply and are rejected.

The struggle doesn’t end when the families are gainfully employed, either. Transitioning from a reliable and predictable government assistance program to a minimum wage job that might have variable paychecks is a big adjustment.

Affording childcare on top of basic needs adds another layer of complexity.

Dewey Meteer, who organized the forum, said he was taken aback by some of the issues brought up in the discussion.

“We pay federal and state taxes that fund such programs as Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) and the Child Care Subsidy Program, but DHHS, through its complex application processes, keeps the money from reaching the people that need it. Thus, employers have trouble finding workers and workers have trouble occupying jobs because they can’t get childcare vouchers, which would help the economy of Waldo County by being spent locally,” Meteer wrote in an email to the Journal after the meeting. “This is a problem we all share. It is economic and it is human.”

It was suggested during the discussion that early childhood educators and providers work together to present workable ideas to lawmakers.

We applaud these providers who go above and beyond to care for children. Lawmakers should take a close look at available programs and processes that keep young families and children from falling through the cracks — and take action accordingly.

Another town columnist retires

You may have read in an earlier issue of the Journal that Jackson town news correspondent Beverly Ludden is no longer able to continue writing her column. All of us here wish her well and will miss her "Beverly-speak" descriptions that gained her a following, even outside her hometown. Get well soon, Beverly.