- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 31, 2005

Lauren and William Hochman tried for five years, taking “extra measures,” to have a baby. So she feels “extra special to be blessed with Izaac.” So, with their only child now 2, the Hochmans naturally took extra-special care in finding just the right child care provider.

Mrs. Hochman was aided in her search by “a really vital” service called ‘Locate: Child Care’ that is operated by the nonprofit Maryland Child Care Resource Network.

“I’m a working mother, and my husband is a working dad, and we wanted what every parent wants — a place that is safe, caring, nurturing and has a stimulating environment for Izaac,” said Mrs. Hochman, 30, a mental health professional who lives in Rockville. “We’re absolutely in love with our day care provider. Without [the resource network], we never would have found Mamie,” she said of her son’s “family atmosphere” day care setting.

However, other Maryland moms and dads may not be so fortunate in the future. The critical early education and child care services provided by the resource network are about to be decimated by state budget cuts that can be attributed, in part, to confusion and political backbiting.

The Maryland Committee for Children is a private, nonprofit agency that receives state funding to operate the child care network in 12 regional centers throughout the state. It should not be confused with the state’s Office of Children and Youth and Families, a debatable political entity that Democrats contend is duplicative and therefore unnecessary under Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican. It, too, faces extinction.

Stop the shenanigans. In both cases, vulnerable children and their families are caught in the political crossfire.

The measly $1 million it would take to restore the efficient, effective network of child care resource centers is a microscopic morsel in the overall Maryland budget, but those meager funds provide the mother’s milk that will keep this vital network alive.

Diane Cohen used the Prince George’s County resource center to find before- and after-school care for her daughters.

“They were everything I hoped they would be,” she said. “I didn’t know where to turn to look for care. My daughter is getting ready to start kindergarten, and they were extremely helpful.”

Seventy-five percent of Maryland children have working mothers. We’re not just talking about poor and working-class families or welfare-to-work mothers, who are so often shirked. Thousands of middle-class families such as the Hochmans and the Cohens, who also must depend on reliable, affordable child care services in order to work, are equally affected.

“It hurts me that [Maryland legislators] don’t seem to understand what it does for parents to be productive in their work environment. I don’t have to worry about Izaac,” Mrs. Hochman said. “It makes me a more productive member of the community. But I don’t know that [the legislators] see the link.”

People without small children just don’t realize that child care is no longer simply about baby sitting. Or that the number of child care providers, particularly for infants, is shrinking.

Flora Gee, director of the Greenbelt Children’s Center and a child care advocate for 30 years, said today “child care is about education.” She explained the latest research that indicates the necessity of exposing children to learning activities during their critical brain development stages from infancy to 3 years old and important formative years of 3 to 5 so they will be better prepared for school.

“Parents should be screaming” about these cuts, a fuming Mrs. Gee said.

Jennifer Williams, a spokeswoman for the public policy department of the Maryland Committee on Children, said the 12 regional centers — including the Montgomery County Child Care Resource & Referral Center that helped the Hochmans — provide practical services such as finding a day care provider with no pets along a certain bus line or commuter route.

The child care network, Mrs. Williams said, faces extinction if the proposed Maryland budget is adopted as stands. It cuts the network’s funding to $1.8 million in fiscal 2006, down from $3.8 million in fiscal 2005, which is down from $5.8 million in fiscal 2003. Mr. Ehrlich replaced $1 million in his supplemental budget to keep the network breathing, just barely, but the House removed the $1 million funding, while the Senate cut $800,000.

Supporters of the child care network rallied in Annapolis last week and have been lobbying the General Assembly this week because the network will survive only if the $1 million is replaced during a budget conference this weekend.

Mrs. Williams said the network took 15 years to establish, and it has helped 333,568 parents of 454,092 children.

Reportedly, Maryland will have a surplus of $300 million in the $26 billion budget even after the rainy-day fund is accounted for. An accountable, nonprofit network that provides such a vital service for today’s work force and tomorrow’s surely should be rewarded with a small sliver of those surplus funds to continue its services for “extra-special” charges such as Izaac.

For more information about CRC, log onto www.mdchildcare.org.

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