Gov. Janet Mills speaks at a news conference Wednesday, Feb. 16, in Farmington about the expansion of the University of Maine at Farmington’s Sweatt-Winter Child Care and Early Education Center. Mills addressed the efforts her administration is taking to improve the workforce shortage in early education and child care. At left are UMF president Edward Serna and Katherine Yardley, associate provost and dean of the UMF College of Education, Health and Rehabilitation. Kay Neufeld/Franklin Journal

FARMINGTON — The University of Maine at Farmington (UMF) has been given the stamp of approval by the UMaine-System to expand its Sweatt-Winter Child Care and Early Education Center.

The expansion, according to a release, will enable UMF to care for more infants and toddlers. Additionally, it will allow UMF to increase enrollment to its early childhood education programs by 20%.

It currently serves “high quality care and education [to] children ages 2.5 through second grade, offering part-day preschool, full-day child care, and before- and after-school care for children in K-2,” according to Katherine Yardley, associate provost and dean of the UMF College of Education, Health and Rehabilitation.

The new center at 274 Front Street in Farmington is expected to open in January 2023.

The center will receive $3.1 million in funding. Of those funds, $1 million will come from the Maine Jobs & Recovery Plan (MJRP) and $600,000 from a request by Sens. Susan Collins (R) and Angus King (I) in the the federal FY22 budget still under negotiation.

Yardley said the funding will allow UMF to expand the center’s services to infants and toddlers; expand the inclusivity of the center by providing access to the program for “children and families of all abilities and disabilities; allow for faculty to incorporate observation into their classes; utilize technology to “engage in workforce development” statewide; and, with a nature-based playground, develop an understanding in the importance of “nature-based play in children’s development and learning.”


Gov. Janet Mills spoke about the new center and the overall issues around child care and early education at a press conference Wednesday, Feb. 16, in the new facility.

Mills is not only from Farmington, but said her parents sent her to a precursor of the Sweatt-Winter center as a child.

She was optimistic about how the center can impact Maine’s workforce and the quality of early childhood education in rural areas.

“In a few short months, at least 20 more Maine children will have a nurturing safe place to learn foundational skills while their parents are at work,” Mills said of the UMF center. “More college students will acquire the skills they need to build lifelong good paying careers as childcare workers, especially in rural Maine.”

“[Those educators to be] will become the workforce behind the workforce,” she added.

Mills said she feels the center is important “for working parents, educators and educators-to-be whom we so dearly need in our workforce to help the rest of the workforce survive.”


“Expanding childcare across Maine is obviously critical to our economic recovery from this pandemic,” she said. “And it’s key to the success of Maine families.”

Issues around access to quality child care and early education particularly impact rural regions like Franklin County.

Franklin County has the highest child care gap (the supply versus need for formal child care) in all of Maine with a 29.5% gap, according to data from the Bipartisan Policy Center.

“[Accessible child care] is obviously a critical need for Franklin County,” Mills noted.

She identified three issues within child care “that hit home during the pandemic”: a lack of “trained early childhood educators,” low wages for those educators and a lack of “physical facilities … to expand childcare and early childhood education.”

Gov. Janet Mills, second from left, speaks Wednesday with University of Maine at Farmington associate provost Katherine Yardley, left, state Rep. Scott Landry, D-Farmington, third from left, and UMF president Edward Serna. Mills held a news conference at the university about the Sweatt-Winter Child Care and Early Education Center’s expansion to provide more child care services and education training in the region. Mills addressed the efforts her administration is taking to improve the workforce shortage in early education and child care. Kay Neufeld/Franklin Journal

Mills said her administration is working “to increase the availability of childcare and early childhood education in Maine” through the MJRP.


The MJRP will invest nearly $1 billion from American Rescue Plan Act funds “to improve the lives of Maine people and families, help businesses, create good-paying jobs, and build an economy poised for future prosperity” via facets such as child care and education.

Mills said at the conference that Maine is investing $25 million in the MJRP “to help communities renovate, expand or build childcare facilities and expand pre-kindergarten programs.”

Additionally, Mills announced in her State of the State Address that she was requesting $12 million in Maine’s next budget to increase pay for child care workers and early childhood educators.

“That funding will help them build lifelong good paying careers in our childcare workforce,” she said at the conference. “It will also allow existing childcare facilities to take in more children, expanding access to families across the state of Maine.”

Mills feels that increasing wages for these educators and workers will also address the burnout impacting education across the state and country, which has intensified during the pandemic.

“I think this kind of thing is exciting and will excite a lot more people and encourage them to go into this profession to become teachers to become early childhood educators and to find fulfilling and good paying careers.

“I think a lot of people find it fulfilling they just don’t find it economically as fulfilling as they want,” Mills said.

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