Pre-K students, dressed in foul-weather gear, approach the playground equipment at Portland Youth and Family Outreach during a light rain in mid-September. The child care center reduced enrollment as federal funds ran dry. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Stacey Nadeau was stunned when she heard Miss Jordyn’s child care would be closing.

“My jaw dropped. My mind was whirling. I was like, ‘Oh my goodness, what am I going to do?’ ” she said. “And then I just felt sad. I couldn’t believe it.”

In August, after eight years in business, Miss Jordyn’s Child Care and Preschool in Caribou shut its doors for good. Federal pandemic funding had kept the child, summer and after-school care operation afloat for a while, but the money ran out last month, sending families scrambling to find care for their children.

Nadeau quickly found after-school care for her 8-year-old son. But the same couldn’t be said about her 5-year-old daughter. For the first few weeks, Nadeau left work for around an hour every day to pick her daughter up, take her to Nadeau’s parents’ house and return to the office. Eventually, her children’s father cut back on his work hours and, consequently, his pay.

“It’s a huge help that he can pick her up,” Nadeau said. “But it’s more responsibility on me financially.”

In Maine and around the country, child care operators are in dire financial straits as they run out of the $39 billion in federal aid they received during the pandemic.


That unprecedented investment from Congress provided a lifeline to the historically low-paying and low- to no-profit industry by boosting salaries, helping families pay for care and providing funds for training.

But that funding was only provided through the fiscal year that ended Saturday, and it is now gone. Some in Congress, including Maine Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King and Rep. Chellie Pingree, want to pass a new round of emergency child care funding, but the prospects are uncertain.

As many as 3.2 million American children, including around 13,000 in Maine, are at risk of losing access to child care, according to The Century Foundation, a left-leaning think tank.

The “funding cliff” is already leading to the closure of providers such as Miss Jordyn’s in Caribou and to the downsizing of many other providers, including Portland Youth and Family Outreach, which has been serving low-income families in Portland for 37 years.

Anoff Cobblah claps his hands while leading his pre-K class through a round of the nursery rhyme “Bingo” during morning meeting at Portland Youth and Family Outreach. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

These closures and downsizes come amid an already critical shortage of child care providers.

The child care industry has long been unstable, defined by poverty-level wages, high staff turnover, razor-thin margins, a shortage of child care slots and skyrocketing costs for families.


As the pandemic hit, providers were forced to close temporarily, resulting in lost income. Over the next two years, they had to invest in health and safety supplies and restructure classrooms to manage the spread of COVID-19. Government aid helped cover these costs, but at the same time, inflation skyrocketed. Rent, utility and food costs all went up.

Around 1 in 10 child care facilities nationwide, or about 20,000, closed during the first two years of the pandemic, according to The Century Foundation. Others have closed individual classrooms or otherwise their reduced capacity because of an inability to pay employees or hire staff due to a worsening shortage of early education workers.

In Maine, the number of child care providers dropped by 19% between 2013 and 2022, from 1,860 providers in 2013 to 1,516 in 2022, according to data from the Maine Children’s Alliance.

Additionally, 40% of Maine child cares are understaffed and as a result are serving about 10,000 fewer children than they are licensed for, according to a survey by the Maine Association for the Education of Young Children.

Toddlers eat breakfast at Portland Youth and Family Outreach. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Nadeau, 48, had been sending her two children to Miss Jordyn’s for years. Her son, now 8 years old, started there when he was 3. Her daughter, now 5, started there at six months.

Her children understand that they can’t go back to Miss Jordyn’s, but they don’t understand why, said Nadeau.


Her daughter has told her every day since Miss Jordyn’s closed that she misses her friends. Her son misses the structure and the activities he got to participate in, like basketball and playing in the indoor gym.

“He’s experienced bullying, and a regular routine was really good for him,” said Nadeau.

Jordyn Rossignol, who owned and operated the child care center, did everything she could think of to keep Miss Jordyn’s afloat. She used her entire personal savings of $50,000; she borrowed money from her mother; she raised tuition. None of it was enough.

The total cost of weekly payroll for 18 employees earning $17 per hour or less was around $12,000. But on Aug. 15, the day before payroll was due, she had $7,000 in her checking account. She announced her plans to close on Aug. 21. The last day with children was Aug. 24.

Her Caribou center served 100 kids between six weeks and 10 years of age – a significant number in a town with 7,441 residents, including 1,100 under the age of 18.

The closure of the child care, preschool and after-school program upended the lives of many of the parents who relied on it as a safe place where they could send their kids every day while they went to work.


Jordyn Rossignol operated Miss Jordyn’s Child Care and Preschool in Caribou until she was forced to close the center in August as federal funds ran dry. She is shown in this photo at the center before it closed. Photo courtesy of Jordyn Rossignol

As a result, parents have missed work, switched jobs, and cut back on hours and pay. Many have reached out to family members for help cobbling together care. With options limited, some have settled for child care options that are more expensive or that they feel less comfortable with.

Others are still searching for long-term solutions.

Mayling Silva, 31, works 55 to 60 hours a week as a server at Jade Palace in Caribou. She sent her children to Miss Jordyn’s for seven years. Her daughter, now 7, started going there when she was 1. Her son, 2, started at six weeks old.

Since the closure, Silva hasn’t been able to find anywhere she feels comfortable sending her kids.

During the day, her mother watches her children. When her children’s father gets off work, he takes over and puts them to bed. Silva has one day off a week when she can care for them all day.

Silva said she’s exhausted.


“It’s not ideal,” she said. “The way it was, we had a good system. It worked. Now it’s gone.”

Camelia Babson-Haley is executive director of Portland Youth and Family Outreach. Pandemic relief for child care facilities, like hers, ran out at the end of September. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

In the past two years, the Portland Youth and Family Outreach has closed two classrooms serving 13 kids aged six weeks to 2 1/2 years, shrinking enrollment from 41 to 28. The child care center, which focuses on serving low-income families, couldn’t find anyone to hire.

“There was no choice. We literally couldn’t hire,” said Camelia Babson-Haley, the executive director.

The pool of early childhood educators dwindled during the pandemic as workers left the field for higher paying jobs with less COVID risk and more flexible schedules, leaving child care centers around the state and country scrambling to hire. Portland Youth and Family, which when fully staffed has 14 employees, has seen 22 staff members leave since June 2020. Youth and Family’s starting hourly wage is between $16 and $22 an hour. The average hourly pay for a child care worker is $15.41, or around $32,000 per year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The decision to close two infant classrooms was a heartbreaking one for Babson-Haley. She knows that many are in need of child care and that the shortage of spots for infants is particularly severe. Youth and Family has a waitlist of 150 children and receives around six online applications and six in-person requests for child care per week.

“It’s awful that we have to say ‘no’ to more families,” Babson-Haley said.


Teacher Cara Rousseau helps a pre-K student don foul-weather gear before going out to the playground in a light rain at Portland Youth and Family Outreach. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

The inability to hire is ultimately a money issue. Child care operators can’t pay enough to entice workers. But they also can’t raise rates for parents already struggling to afford care in the U.S., which is already among the most expensive to parents in the developed world and has risen significantly in the past few years.

Child care is what has long been called a broken market, said Julie Kashen, a senior fellow at The Century Foundation, quoting U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen.

“What we have is parents paying at the top of their budget or busting their budget if they can find (child care) and more often not even being able to find it,” Kashen said.

The solution, Kashen said, is for the public sector to partner with child care operators and families to make it work.

“We need well-resourced child care options so that they can pay good wages, have the resources they need to have safe staffing ratios, invest in professional development, and guarantee affordable child care to those who need or want it.”

The $39 billion of federal aid provided – albeit temporarily – was the public partnership that Kashen said the industry needs to adequately serve children and their families. Miss Jordyn’s and Youth and Family said that over the past two years, it helped them survive.

An infant crawls across a carpeted floor at Portland Youth and Family Outreach. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Babson-Haley said she doesn’t know what she’s going to do when all the pandemic money runs out. She needs to raise wages so she can hire, she said, but she’s already raised tuition 25% over the past few years – a decision she said she knows has hurt financially strapped families.

When asked if she thought she might have to close more classrooms, she said she didn’t want to answer the question.

“I hope not,” Babson-Haley said. “I don’t want to think about it. I don’t want to assume that is a possibility. I hope there’s change.”

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