On Tuesday, July 21, 2015, Maine Children’s Alliance held a press and community event to explore what the numbers in 2015 KIDS COUNT Data Book mean for Maine kids and what some prominent Maine organizations are doing to improve the numbers. MCA joined forces with the Maine Center for Economic Policy (MECEP), Portland ConnectED, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the United Way of Greater Portland, who also served as our gracious host.
The 2015 KIDS COUNT Data Book from the Annie E. Casey Foundation presented mixed findings on the status of Maine kids. While Maine demonstrated improvement in several of the indicator areas, large pockets of concentrated poverty persist, hindering a child’s cognitive, social and emotional growth and development. Representatives from each of our partner organizations presented the same bottom-line: Maine needs to take a two-generational approach to developing policies and practices for Maine children. When Maine parents and families succeed, so can Maine kids.
MECEP’s executive director, Garrett Martin, cited Maine’s slow post-recession economic recovery as the reason nearly one in five Maine children live in poverty. Despite bucking the national unemployment trend, Maine ranks among the top states with the number of part-time employees seeking fulltime work. When Maine parents are unable to find stable, good paying jobs, they struggle to afford basic needs for their children at home.
Although Maine improved in each of the education indicators, pre-k enrollment, fourth grade reading level, eighth grade math proficiency, and high school graduation rates, Maine can do better. Portland ConnectEd’s executive director, Mike Dixon, explained that the data “reflects encouraging improvement…but also points to some sobering and compelling work still to be done.” More than half of Maine children are not attending preschool, 63% of fourth graders are not proficient in reading and 60% of eighth graders are not proficient in math.
Overall, Maine is doing well in the area of children’s health. Dr. Deborah Hagler, Associate Medical Director for Pediatrics at Martin’s Point Health Care pointed to community partnerships between the medical community and service organizations for the improved numbers. Despite 94% of Maine children covered by health insurance, Dr. Hagler believes we can and should strive to do better. All it takes is a single chronic illness or injury in a child to economically devastate a family.
Lastly, Matt Hoidal, Senior Vice President of Resource Development at UWGP, wrapped up the event, stressing the importance of community collaboration to create solutions for Maine kids and families. Hoidal shared UWGP’s “cradle to career continuum,” a holistic approach to supporting Maine children and families. When communities have strong institutions and the resources to provide safety, good schools and quality support services, families and their children are more likely to thrive.