“At this moment, we are at a critical juncture for Maine children,” said Claire Berkowitz, Executive Director of the Maine Children’s Alliance. “The data highlights some significant challenges facing our children, but also some substantial progress that has been made, too. Now, it is up to all of us to act on this data and work towards creating a better Maine and a better future for our kids as we enter the New Year.”
Last Tuesday, the Maine Children’s Alliance released the 2015 Maine KIDS COUNT® Data Book at a press conference at MaineHealth in Portland. The Maine KIDS COUNT® Data Book is a compilation of evidence-based data on the status and well-being of children in Maine. MCA joined forces with MaineHealth, Community Concepts, Preble Street, and Learning Works to break down what the data means for Maine kids and families. It tells us how policies and practices are working for Maine kids and families. To download the data book, click here.
The 19th edition of the Maine KIDS COUNT® Data Book revealed that Maine families have seen an increase in median income, but 1 in 5 young children still live in poverty. The report also found a decrease in some of the public investments we make to support children from low-income homes. MCA was joined by partners working with children and families in communities to move the needle on some of the data points.
“There are very few comprehensive sources for child health and welfare data for Maine children. The Maine KIDS COUNT Data Book® is one of the first things I pull out when I am looking for data on children’s health,” said Cassie Cote Grantham, Program Director of Child Health at MaineHealth. “It provides critical information for ongoing projects and paints a broader picture for why we see certain trends in child health data. By partnering together across sectors and collaborating to address challenges, we can all help Maine children lead healthier, happier and safer lives in 2016.”
Cassie Cote Grantham, Program Director of Child Health at MaineHealth cited private-public partnerships for the rise of child immunization rates in Maine, which jumped from 71.4 percent to 84.7 percent this year. Grantham discussed how MaineHealth and its child health programs work to improve pediatric care for all Maine children. While rising immunization rates is good news for Maine kids and families, the increasing number of uninsured children in Maine is cause for serious concern, as well as the growing rate of infant mortality, low birth-weight infants and pre-term births.
“We ought to rejoice in this positive data. Certain prevention policies and practices are working for Maine kids and families, and that is a good thing. However, we must not become complacent with good news and continue to strive for even greater results,” said C. Shawn Yardley, CEO of Community Concepts in Lewiston. “Despite facing continuous adversity, Maine kids are defying odds and making informed decisions that lead to future success.”
Longtime Maine Children’s Alliance board member and CEO of Community Concepts, C. Shawn Yardley reminded the attendees that our state only thrives when our communities thrive and that starts with our children, youth and families. Fewer children and youth are smoking cigarettes and participating in underage drinking the percentage of high school students who reported cigarette smoking decreased by over 48 percent.
Donna Yellen, Chief Program Officer of Preble Street reminded us that 46,000 Maine children live in poverty. That is enough to fill the seats in the Augusta Civic Center, the Portland and Bangor Cross Insurance Centers and the Lewiston Colisée – twice. Of great concern is the significant decrease in the number of children receiving TANF benefits at a time when the number of children living in poverty has remained the same.
Lastly, Jeanne Whynot-Vickers, Director of Education Excellence at Learning Works, lauded the steady improvement of Maine’s high school graduation rate, while highlighting the economic gap in students meeting or exceeding math and reading proficiency standards. Only 36 percent of Maine 4th graders met or exceeded reading proficiency levels, while only 35 percent of Maine 8th graders met or exceeded math proficiency levels. For 4th grade reading, an achievement gap of 25 percent existed between low-income students and students who were not low income.
“By third grade far too many students from a low-income background are falling behind their peers,” said Jeanne Whynot-Vickers, Director of Educational Excellence at Learning Works. “We owe it to all students to do what we can to give them the best chance of success and the opportunity to reach their full potential.”