19th Annual Maine KIDS COUNT Reports Latest Data

Maine kids face adversity in tough economic climate

2013kccover_fbMaine’s economy has not improved for Maine’s children and families according to the 2013 Maine KIDS COUNT Data Book, an annual compilation of evidence-based data on the status and well-being of children in Maine.

KIDS COUNT is a project of the Maine Children’s Alliance (MCA), a nonpartisan, data-focused advocate for public policies that improve the lives of Maine’s children, youth and families.

The annual data book was released today with Suzanne McCormick, president and CEO of United Way of Greater Portland, and Dr. Steve Feder, pediatrician and president of the Maine Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, offering their views on the report that chronicles the status of Maine’s children and families statewide and county-by-county. Also presenting remarks were Robert “Rusty” Atwood, board chair of Maine Children’s Alliance; Claire Berkowitz, MCA’s research & KIDS COUNT director; and Ned McCann, MCA’s executive director.

Kids Count reports that in 2011 (the most recent data available), 19.3 percent of all Maine children under age 18 were living in poverty—an increase from 18.2 percent in 2010 as reported last year. Childhood poverty varied widely across Maine’s sixteen counties, from a low of 13.6 percent in York County to a high of 31.2 percent in Washington County.

Among Maine children under age five, almost one in four were living in poverty. Along the same lines, Maine’s median income of families with children dropped to $53,400 in 2012—down slightly from $53,600 in 2011. Maine families are getting by on incomes much lower than their New England neighbors and the nation as a whole.

“Investing in young children is an investment in the future prosperity of Maine,” Ned McCann, executive director of MCA, stated. “At the Maine Children’s Alliance we have been concerned that during the time that more of Maine’s children are getting poorer, fewer are receiving support to help them through their financial hardships.”

McCann was referring to figures that show that between December 2011 and December 2012, 8,269 children –over a third of the caseload — lost their Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) benefits – the result of Maine’s Department of Health and Human Services implementation of a strict 60 month life time limit on the receipt of benefits and a stricter sanction policy.

On a positive note, KIDS COUNT data show improvement in the reading proficiency of fourth grade students and high school graduation rates. The report indicates that 32 percent of Maine’s fourth graders were reading proficiently in 2011. However, while the KIDS COUNT data book was being printed, the 2013 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) reading scores were released and show improvement – 37 percent of Maine fourth graders were reading proficiently. This compares to a national average of 34 percent.

“We know that reading proficiency at the end of third grade is associated with future academic success and that high school graduation is the single most powerful predictor of whether a young person coming from generations of poverty will break the cycle,“ Suzanne McCormick, president & CEO of United Way of Greater Portland, said.  “The ability of students to think, learn and communicate affects their likelihood of becoming productive adults and active citizens.”

Among other highlights of the 2013 edition is that Maine’s public preschool enrollment has increased to serving almost 33 percent of Maine’s four year olds during the 2012-13 school year, up from 18 percent in 2007-08. Of the 2,008 licensed child care providers in the state of Maine, only 161 (8 percent) meet the highest standard in Maine’s early care and education quality rating system, Quality for ME.

“Of course we know that reading proficiency begins with language proficiency which is learned as the brain develops from birth. It is critical to give child care providers the support they need to fully qualify to meet the developmental needs of infants and toddlers,” McCormick said.

There is both good and bad news about Maine’s older youth. While our 2012 high school graduation rate is up slightly from 83.1 percent to 84.8 percent, and our high school dropout rate (3.2 percent) has remained steady, more teens have become detached from both school and the job market. In 2012, 5,279 (8 percent) of Maine teens ages 16-19 were neither in school nor employed, up from 3,966 (6 percent) in 2011. However, progress has been made in the percentage of young adults who have enrolled in or completed college over the last decade: 32 percent in 2000 vs. 49 percent in 2011.

The report revealed positive trends regarding health care coverage and access. More Maine children (63.4  percent) receive care within a medical home setting than their national peers (54.4 percent). A medical home is characterized by primary health care that is accessible, continuous, comprehensive, family-centered and delivered by a trusted provider who is known the to the child.

The number of children who lack health insurance in Maine is just 5 percent, half the national average. Of the 14,000 Maine children who lack health insurance coverage, 6,000 are low income and eligible for MaineCare coverage.

Dr. Steve Feder, a midcoast pediatrician, spoke about the importance of getting all children and their families covered by health insurance. “We have more to work to do and we’d like to see the day when every single child, and every single Mainer, has access to affordable, quality health care they can rely on every day.“

Dr. Feder went on to say that, “When parents are covered, it is more likely that their children will be covered and receive important preventive care. Maine has a real opportunity, by providing Medicaid to parents and by helping parents access private coverage under the Affordable Care Act, to make sure that more of our state’s children are getting the care they need.”

Dr. Feder also expressed concern that 25 percent of Maine children experienced two or more adverse childhood experiences (ACES). Early exposure to family violence, abusive treatment, neglect, alcohol and drug abuse, or separated/divorced parents can lead to health and social problems, risk-taking behaviors and a shortened lifespan. Safe, stable and nurturing relationships and communities can help to mitigate the negative effects of ACES.

Teen behavior data highlight positive trends in smoking and alcohol use. Maine high school students reported lower rates of smoking in 2011 than in 2009: 15.2 percent vs. 18.1 percent. Nationally, 18 percent of students reported smoking in the last 30 days. There was a decline among Maine students who reported drinking alcohol, from 32.2 percent in 2009 to 28.7 percent in 2011. Nationally, 38.7 percent of teens reported drinking alcohol in the last 30 days. The number of Maine high schools students reporting marijuana use remained steady at 21.2 percent.

The number of teens reporting ever being hit, slapped, or physically hurt on purpose by their boyfriend or girlfriend during the last 12 months decreased, from 15.4 percent in 2009 to 11.4 percent two years later. Arrests of children also declined from a rate of 49.6 arrests per 1,000 children ages 10-17 in 2010 to a rate of 41.7 arrests in 2011.

“For 19 years, the KIDS COUNT Data Book has provided vital information for everyone concerned with public policy in Maine,” KIDS COUNT director Claire Berkowitz said. “We know that sound data can be the basis for good public policy, because the results over time show how investments in kids can work for everyone.”

For a complete look at the data in the 2013 Maine KIDS COUNT, including summaries by county for key indicators, visit the Maine Children’s Alliance website, www.mekids.org, or call (207) 623-1868 to request a copy of the report.

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