A County nonprofit and school will join forces to increase child care options

9 months ago

CARIBOU, Maine — A partnership between Caribou’s school district and Aroostook County Action Program will soon bring after-school care to an area that desperately needs more child care options.

Later this fall, ACAP will launch its first after-school program located in and targeting a specific school district. Caribou Community School will provide the space for ACAP’s program, which will focus on Caribou students from 5 to 12 years old.

Caribou area families are in dire need of child care services. The region’s largest center —  Miss Jordyn’s Child Development Center — closed in August after financial debt and operational costs far exceeded revenue from parents’ tuition. Jordyn Rossignol’s center served 100 children and its abrupt closure left many parents fearful they would have to quit their jobs if they could not find alternative child care.

“Finding care after school has been a concern in our community for a while, including among our teachers,” said Jane McCall, RSU 39 interim superintendent. “Once we heard about Jordyn’s closure, the demand seemed to grow.”

In ACAP’s latest community needs assessment, published in 2021, 60 percent of responders said parents need more flexible and affordable child care options. With most independent centers full and with long wait lists, ACAP sought ways to expand their services beyond pre-K and Head Start programs.

ACAP used to operate its own after-school program but ended it 10 years ago when they saw a greater demand for early childhood services. Now the need for after-school care has grown, said Megan Barnes, ACAP director of programs.

Most children from ages 5 to 12 only need care for several hours after school and before parents leave work. But any child that a provider enrolls is considered full time, even if they only stay a few hours. 

That means providers often focus more on children under age 5, leaving fewer options for children after school, McCall said.

“We’re hoping that this program will provide some relief to other day care providers,” McCall said.

ACAP plans to hire at least five of its current employees for the new program and aims to serve from 30 to 39 students. ACAP is licensed to serve at least 40 children in after-school programs and hopes to start it in late October or early November.

The program will be held daily from 2:30 to 5:30 p.m. at Caribou Community School. ACAP will also provide all-day care at the school during breaks and summer vacation.  Parents will need to pay to enroll their children, but admissions there will not be based on income, Barnes said.

ACAP plans to make education a key component of the program. Children may do homework, take part in lessons or learn in more fun, creative ways, like through educational games or outdoor experiences, Barnes said.

“We’re in a wonderful location. Caribou’s recreation center is right across the street and Caribou Community School has its outdoor classroom, two playgrounds and learning centers,” Barnes said. 

Caribou Community School and ACAP plan to continue their partnership for as long as the program remains in demand. If it’s successful, the program could be an inspiration for other districts, McCall said.

“[This one program] won’t solve the [day care] problem, but maybe it could help,” McCall said.