In this Sept. 15, 2022, file photo, Jordyn Rossignol, owner of Miss Jordyn's Child Care and Preschool, speaks during a child care town hall meeting at the Caribou Wellness & Recreation Center. Credit: Melissa Lizotte / Aroostook Republican & News

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Recently, a town hall meeting was held at the Caribou Recreation Center. For nearly 90 minutes, community members heard from local day care providers the chilling details of a system on the verge of collapse. Unbeknownst to most of us, we have a day care crisis. Just as the economy around us begins to recover from the pandemic, day care centers and home day care providers are at risk of closing.

The reasons cited were many: low ages that force qualified workers to seek other employment; child care subsidies based on tuition, rather than the real cost of providing quality care; and frequently changing day care regulations imposed by the state that few, if any, of our homes would pass. Cumulatively, these factors are causing day cares to close at an alarming rate, and leaving the remaining providers hanging on by a thread. Left unchecked, this crisis will affect businesses and institutions in profound and negative ways.

Imagine any of the following: Hospitals and nursing homes understaffed, compromising the quality of care offered the ill and aging; teachers and school employees missing work days on end; businesses forced to reduce hours because of a shortage of workers; and the inability to attract and retain quality employees.

All because of a shortage of child care. For good reason, child care workers were deemed essential workers during the COVID pandemic; their availability allowed other businesses to stay open. And yet, this necessary platform that supports so many other businesses and institutions is shaking badly. That is why I was dismayed that so few local business and civic leaders attended the town hall meeting. In the absence of their investment and their voices, this problem will go unabated and they will find themselves scrambling and wondering why they didn’t do more when they could. For the sake of the local economy and the vitality of our community, I invite and challenge them to lead; to consider the potential impact on their businesses and institutions and take strong action before it’s too late.

Timothy P. Stohlberg