In 2015, Maui Economic Opportunity Inc. will celebrate its 50th anniversary, and since its beginning MEO has been involved in early childhood education.
MEO's first program was Head Start. Since 1971, MEO has joined with many other communities and individuals in April to celebrate "The Month of the Young Child" and to recognize the needs and rights of young children and their families. On Maui, this has been combined with a recognition of efforts to prevent child abuse with the concurrent recognition of April as Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention Awareness Month.
For a child, the timeframe from birth to 5 years is extremely valuable. The Month of the Young Child recognizes that these years are important - there is learning that is happening, and there are essential dynamics that are occurring between the parent and the child or a child and a caregiver that can plan the trajectory of a child's success in life. We also use this month to recognize and support the profession of young child education.
According to the Children's Justice Center, there are 28 agencies on Maui that provide child abuse and neglect services, and the Maui Police Department has a special unit to address these crimes.
From all of these efforts and more - including those of the faith-based community - it is clear that Maui cares about our children, but is there more we can do?
I have been involved in early childhood programs and services for 23 years, and one of my concerns has been the growing cost of quality licensed child care.
The No. 1 worry expressed to me by many families is how are they going to pay for child care? According a survey by PATCH Hawaii, the average cost of child care for a preschool-aged child on Maui is $571 per month.
There may be ways to help offset this cost. Sources include PATCH, located at 1063 Lower Main St., Unit C-214 in Wailuku or call 242-4786; or Child Care Connection Hawaii via ARBOR at 1063 Lower Main St., Unit C-209 in Wailuku or call 249-2461; or The Maui County Early Childhood Resource Center at 242-1608.
For Head Start options, please feel free to contact MEO at 249-2988. We can provide information on our programs and also share resources available within the community of our partner agencies. We can also provide contact information regarding additional MEO Community Service programs that may be able to help with referrals, employment programs and housing assistance, among others areas.
All of these efforts are commendable and deserve our support, but the larger question that must be addressed is: How important do we think the work to provide safe, affordable, licensed early childhood education is for our children? If we agree that the benefits to the children, their families and ultimately to all of us are significant and can even help grow our economy with talented educated workers and a reduction in social costs, then we must fully implement a comprehensive, statewide system of affordable, quality early childhood education accessible to all families.
Finally, experience has shown me that there are nonfinancial ways that can be implemented to help our children develop to their fullest potential. That approach is to surround them with a strong, healthy and loving family. Seemingly simple yet important things such as reading to your child, taking a walk and exploring the world as they see it and sitting down to enjoy a meal together can have a great positive impact. Studies have shown that children who are read to and who eat with their family at the dinner table do better in school and have fewer social problems as they grow up.
This is a wonderful time of the year. Maui is green and spring has arrived. Take a moment to appreciate and wonder at that amazing human being in your care who is learning and growing at such a remarkable pace, and join with me in supporting the community efforts that are honored to serve you and your family.
* Debbi Amaral is MEO's director of Early Childhood Services. She can be contacted at 249-2988.