Susan Collins can be our biggest advocate in the fight to make our young children’s potential a national priority.
Credit: George Danby / BDN

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Kasey Marie McBlais of Buckfield is an alumni of the Maine State Parent Ambassadors program. She recruits foster and adoptive families for the state.

Parenting a baby or toddler is a non-stop merry-go-round of choices. Sometimes they are fun, like what books to read or games to play. Others are not fun, like must I go to the supermarket when my toddler is cranky?

It’s hard enough navigating these everyday moments with a young child. But like millions of families across the country, I have to make daily choices between financial security and ensuring the health and educational development of my children. It leaves me wondering: Where are our country’s priorities?

When I gave birth to my second baby, I took 10 weeks of leave — four less than the global average, according to the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development. Since the United States is one of only six countries without a paid parental leave policy, half of my time off was unpaid — and I was lucky compared with many of my neighbors. At the cost of our financial security, I took as much time off as I could to recover from childbirth, bond with my newborn and help her brother ease into his new role.

But with that cut to our income, medical bills piling up, a pandemic bearing down and two babies to raise, one with increasingly special needs, we had to defer several mortgage and student loan payments just so each paycheck could cover the ballooning costs of our basic necessities. My husband had to work extra hours to make ends meet, leaving me alone most of the day with our two young children — going against my doctor’s medical recommendations for my post-surgery recovery.

My husband and I also continued the unending struggle of finding child care that we could both afford and that would provide safe, nurturing care where our children could learn and grow. We went on waitlist after waitlist. It took us months to find a provider that offered the quality of child care and early childhood mental health services that fit our children’s needs and our family’s budget.

Now, budget cuts that threaten the funding of child care and early education programs, such as Early Head Start and child care subsidies, are being considered on Capitol Hill. U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, a longtime supporter of Maine’s families, must remain steadfast in her efforts to protect these critical programs that enable parents to work and give children safe places to develop.

Our family’s experience was difficult, but not unique. More than three-quarters of Maine’s infants

and toddlers live in low- to moderate-income households and 69.7 percent of our state’s mothers are working moms. Child care is expensive, with only a handful of families receiving help paying for it, so services are largely unaffordable and inaccessible to parents who need them most. In rural Maine, a child care desert, at one point I was traveling an hour a day for child care. At the same time, providers are underpaid, adding to the instability of the child care supply. Threatening the few resources that exist for Maine’s families will only make this child care crisis worse.

The importance of comprehensive family resources and access to affordable, high-quality child care services cannot be overstated. When we invest in these services, we invest in our nation’s economy. We improve the quality of life for children and enable more parents to return to work. Without these policies, tens of millions of parents will have to choose between their work or caring for their baby.

As a leader in Congress and a long-standing champion for families, I am looking to Collins to take a stand for parents and babies in Maine and throughout the country in our nation’s budget debate. I want my son and daughter to grow up in a country that values children more than a paycheck or the next election cycle. She can be our biggest advocate in the fight to make our young children’s potential a national priority.