The following remarks were made by Claire Berkowitz at the KIDS COUNT Press Conference on November 21, 2013.
In preparing for today’s KIDS COUNT release event, I was reminded of something I read a few years ago about the Maasai Tribe of Kenya and Tanzania. It is said that when the adults in the tribe greet each other they don’t ask “How are you?” Instead they ask, “And how are the children?” The expected response to this central, essential question is, “All the children are well.”
All the children are well means that the priorities of protecting the young and the powerless are in place in the community. It suggests that the community is responsible for all the children, for they are the future that keeps a society moving forward.
As the KIDS COUNT Director, I spend my days looking at child well-being data – numbers and percentages that suggest that not all of our children are doing well. Daily struggles exist for our youngest and most vulnerable. When just one of our children are abused or neglected, goes hungry or homeless, lacks medical care, or loses a friend to suicide, that is one too many. But the data suggest that far too many children in our state are experiencing these and other hardships.
And yet despite those staggering statistics, I know that many Maine children across the state have protective factors that help to mitigate those hard facts. We have Head Start and quality early child care programs that support working families. Title I reading specialists working to improve reading proficiency in our elementary students. Dedicated foster parents and kinship families who step in and care for children removed from unsafe homes. Drug, alcohol and smoking prevention programs that educate young people about alternatives to mind altering substances. School administrators, teachers, guidance counselors and community members who wrap themselves around an entire student body that is grieving the loss of a classmate to suicide.
We do this work for our children as a state and as a nation, with our collective public and private resources, so that the next generation has the chance to grow up knowing they are cared for and valued, not just by their immediate family, but by the community.
At the Maine Children’s Alliance we know that doing right by our children the first time around, at an early age, is easier and less costly than efforts to fix or shore up inadequate foundations later on. And we all benefit from the investments for we improve our society and prevent a host of more expensive problems in the long run.
And so in closing I’d like to again thank Suzanne McCormick and Dr. Feder for joining us today to talk about the value of Maine KIDS COUNT and share with us the work that they do to improve the lives of Maine children in their community. I’d like to thank all of the data providers from the state agencies and organizations listed on the back cover of the report. We could not do this work without their cooperation.
I’d also like to thank the Annie E. Casey Foundation for funding this work. There is a KIDS COUNT grantee in every state in the nation. The Maine Children’s alliance is proud to be a part of a network of child advocates who strive to secure better futures for all children. For 19 years, the KIDS COUNT Data Book has provided vital information for everyone concerned with public policy in Maine. 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 .