The largest private child care provider in Caribou will close for good at the end of the month, leaving families with two weeks to find new care for the nearly 100 children enrolled there.
Miss Jordyn’s Child Development Center was left with no option but to shut down after struggling for years to pay the bills and find adequate staffing, said Jordyn Rossignol, the center’s founder and director. Last Monday, Rossignol met with staff, then parents to break the news that Thursday will be the center’s last day after eight years in business.
“This feels like a death I’m mourning,” she said. “It has been the most rewarding career despite the struggle because of the relationships I’ve built with the children and their families. It’s absolutely terrifying not knowing what’s next, but I would do it all again.”
Rossignol’s business is the latest in a long line of similar child care closures in Caribou and other rural areas, giving families continuously fewer options. They are symptoms of larger issues within the struggling industry. Rossignol has been visible as an advocate for statewide reforms, yet an upcoming legislative overhaul will come too late to save her business.
“Our business isn’t turning a profit because our child care system is broken,” Rossignol said. “The business model has never worked, and now with the cost of living and running a business being so much higher, it’s completely squashed.”
While Rossignol’s business will be the first child care center in Caribou to shutter in 2023, it’s the 25th one to close in the last decade there, according to the Maine Department of Health and Human Services.
Together, those providers had a licensed capacity of 447 children including Rossignol’s 106. Once Rossignol closes, there will be only 11 options for child care in Caribou that together can serve 286 children. Most of the remaining child care options have a capacity of only 12 children.
Caribou’s decline in available child care shows a glimpse into the child care desert much of the state is struggling with. A January 2023 analysis of state data by the Bipartisan Policy Center found Aroostook County has the largest disparity in Maine, with nearly 2,600 children under 6 who may need child care but only 565 available spaces.
Aroostook County Action Program’s Early Care and Education program remains the largest child care offering in Caribou with a capacity of 136 children. The center is a federally and state funded nonprofit, rather than a private business like Rossignol’s.
At Gov. Janet Mills’ direction, DHHS stepped in to help Rossignol’s families transition to other care providers in the area, according to Jackie Farwell, the department’s spokesperson. This includes ensuring families enrolled in the state child care subsidy program can keep that financial assistance.
“The department is also exploring ways to support the facility’s staff and licensing flexibilities to ease this transition,” Farwell said.
If families aren’t able to find a solution, Rossignol worries many parents will have no choice but to quit their jobs to care for their children. That will burden businesses and organizations that may already be grappling with staffing shortages. The parents who send their children to Rossignol’s center each day include medical professionals, small-business owners, educators, tradespeople and public employees, she said.
“When I close and 98 children will be without child care, it’s going to be a disaster for our community because there are no other options,” she said. “There are no openings in this county and every provider has a waitlist.”
Rossignol’s center offers daily care programs for children ranging from 6 weeks to 5 years old. Weekly tuition ranges from $218 to $198, depending on the child’s age. Several of her families, however, don’t pay the full tuition rate because they’re enrolled in Maine’s child care subsidy program.
Those parents pay a rate that is different depending on each county’s median income. While the program allows lower-income families to afford child care, Rossignol said the program isn’t set up to be affordable for the providers to accept families using it, and she said she lost $41,000 in 2021 alone by accepting the subsidies.
“Our rent, food and payroll costs don’t match what we can charge families,” she said.
The business’ financial woes only got worse when COVID-19 pandemic relief funds from the American Rescue Plan Act funds expired in October 2022, she said. The facility received roughly $322,000 in relief funds to support operations through the pandemic, DHHS data show.
The center has been receiving monthly transition grants from the state, which gives providers $25 for each child the center is licensed to care. Those payments, intended to help providers rebound from the pandemic, are set to expire next month, but they weren’t enough to cover Rossignol’s expenses.
What would have helped her business and so many others is receiving consistent funding from the government like public schools, Rossignol said, adding it is “the only way private child care will survive.”
Rossignol’s business closure also comes after she spent years advocating for legislative changes aimed at helping private child care providers. The Democrat highlighted the issue in her run for the Maine House of Representatives in 2022 but lost to Republican Tim Guerrette.
Maine Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, who championed a 2023 reform package, said it’s unfair that Rossignol won’t be able to “reap the benefits of her tremendous advocacy” and the closure of her business “underscores the severity of this crisis.”
About $59 million of the two-year, $10.3 billion budget Mills signed into law last month is aimed at supporting families and providers while adding capacity. The changes will make more families eligible for subsidies and boost pay for child care workers, among other changes.
“The recent $60 million investment in child care, which will take effect in October, must be just a starting point,” Jackson said. “More needs to be done at the local, state and federal level to support parents and providers — and this work must reflect what providers and parents are telling us.”
Rossignol is only able to pay her teachers $15 per hour, which she recognizes isn’t a livable wage. Many of her employees are college students studying education who are able to work for her for a few years. Once they get a degree, they generally leave to enter public education for higher pay and benefits. That makes Rossignol worry about the industry.
“We’re not viewed as the professionals that we are and the pay doesn’t reflect the work that we do,” she said. “We don’t go into this to be millionaires; we do it because we love it.”