I recently had the honor of testifying before the Maine Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee in favor of LD 1760, “An Act To Support Children’s Healthy Development and School Readiness.” If passed, LD 1760 would establish community-based, comprehensive, high-quality early child care and learning programs for at-risk Maine kids.

I offered my views as a member of the national anti-crime organization Fight Crime: Invest in Kids, as the Farmington chief of police, president of the Maine Chiefs of Police Association, and a father, grandfather and active community member. It was important to me to share with legislators my perspective on high-quality early learning programs and their proven impact on reducing future crime.

In my 36 years in law enforcement, I have seen, firsthand, how the lack of quality early child care and education can lead kids, especially those who are at-risk, down the wrong track and into a life of crime.

Government’s most fundamental responsibility is to protect public safety. There is no substitute for tough law enforcement. But, once a crime has been committed, lives have already been shattered. Those of us on the front lines in the fight against crime understand that we will never fix the crime problem solely through arrests and imprisonment.

Yet, we can improve lives and reduce hardship — and save money — by investing in programs that help keep children from growing up to become criminals in the first place.

It is well-known through research that the first five years of life are critical for a child’s physical, emotional, social and cognitive development. What is equally important, but less well-known, is that quality early learning programs can significantly reduce the chances a child will participate in criminal activities as they get older.

A study of the Chicago Child-Parent Centers demonstrates that impact. The centers provided school readiness programs to 100,000 preschoolers from some of Chicago’s toughest neighborhoods over the course of 30 years. The study examined outcomes for a subgroup of those children and matched those outcomes with a peer group of similar kids not enrolled in the Centers. The study showed that kids who did not receive quality early learning programs were 70% more likely to have been arrested for a violent crime by age 18. By age 24, the now young adults who were in the Child-Parent Centers program as children were 20 percent less likely to have served time in jail.

High-quality early learning and child care programs also save money. A well-respected, independent cost-benefit analysis of nearly 20 different studies showed that early learning programs can, on average, return a “profit” (economic benefit minus cost) to society of nearly $27,000 for every child served.

The benefits of LD 1760 becoming law go beyond the economics, however. Because the programs the bill proposes to create are community-based, each community will be in a position to address their unique early childhood needs in a collaborative fashion. Additionally, LD 1760 offers a comprehensive and multi-generational approach to quality early care and education.

LD 1760 also will provide training, technical assistance and support to Maine’s poorly compensated child care workforce. These are all important elements to quality. And programs need to be high-quality to achieve the crime reduction benefits. Having worked with many child care providers in my law enforcement career, I also know that child care workers are key to parents being able to go to work and have the peace of mind they need to be fully attentive to their jobs, knowing that their kids are safe and well cared for.

High-quality early learning and child care programs should be an essential part of a long-term crime reduction strategy. Such programs help steer kids away from crime and keep our citizens and communities safer.

LD 1760 is a great step in putting Maine on the right path to make sure more young children and their families have the opportunities they deserve to access these programs. I urge Maine lawmakers to support this important legislation.

 


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