A toddler gets one-on-one attention from assistant teacher Heather Sieger at the Belfast Montessori School in this March 31, 2020, file photo. Credit: Abigail Curtis / BDN

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In 1988, my husband Mike and I opened Heidi’s House Child Care in Scarborough. Initially it was a small operation, with 40 children and 12 employees. Every night, after the children went home, my husband and I cleaned the building and made the lunches, while my kids slept in the break room.

Now, 32 years later, we serve 150 children (two of whom are my grandchildren) and have 37 employees. We’re also currently at risk of having to close our doors permanently due to the COVID-19 pandemic. While every business has been affected by the virus, the child care industry has been uniquely weakened. Day cares are socially gathering dependent, and there are no digital substitutes for what we offer.

Now, many day cares are reopening to discover that their enrollments are at their lowest at the exact moment that their fixed expenses are at their highest. Simply put, this is unsustainable. Without significant long-term investment, a massive number of child care providers, large and small, will cease to exist.

This will make it much harder for many families to go back to work. As many have come to realize, when working parents attempt to do their job at home the result is usually that neither the child nor the work gets what it needs.

Several solutions have been proposed to combat the financial devastation being faced by child care. The most recent — and best — of these is the Child Care Is Essential Act, which would create a $50 billion Child Care Stabilization Fund within the Child Care and Development Block Grant program. This would provide tuition and copayment relief for working families, promote health and safety through compliance with guidance, prioritizes providers that serve underserved populations and get funds to providers quickly to help cover operating expenses.

Much has been written about the economic necessity of child care (i.e. if parents can’t return to work, they can’t jumpstart the economy) and so I won’t belabor the point here. Less has been written about its importance with respect to early childhood development.

We help provide early education while meeting kids’ emerging social and emotional needs. We help build self-esteem, teach problem solving and socialization and reinforce the development of voice and power. And then, there are the totally unwritten aspects of the job. Over the course of the past 32 years, I’ve left home early to pick kids up and drive them to school when their parents couldn’t. I’ve sponsored youth leagues, and given out college scholarships to former students. I’ve attended adoption hearings, and accompanied parents to court during custody hearings. I’ve advocated for special needs children, fighting for them to receive the assistance, education and resources they needed.

I’ve waived tuitions and held fundraisers for families struggling with financially devastating emergencies. I’ve visited children in hospitals facing life-threatening health issues, and brought them their cap and gowns when they couldn’t physically attend the graduation.

I will never forget the day a troubled young mother told me she was giving her child to the state to put in the foster system. A few days later, my husband and I obtained an emergency foster license, and the child went home with us. For four months, my family loved and cared for him until we were able to locate his biological father. These are the things we do that are not included in our brochure or on our website.

Over the years, day cares have advocated for families across the country. Now we’re asking you to advocate for us. You can do this by calling your senator or representative and telling them to support the Child Care is Essential Act. This is what it will take to keep business like mine alive, and allow us to continue the deeply meaningful work we’ve pursued these past 32 years.

Heidi MacAllister-McDonald of Freeport owns and operates Heidi’s House Child Care.