The New Year allows us to pause and reflect upon the previous year so we can embrace the New Year with renewed energy and resolve to achieve our goals. It is a much needed chance to refresh, refocus and re-imagine.
In the 2015 Maine KIDS COUNT Data Book released last month, we revealed that despite some positive improvements, Maine’s policies and practices are still not working for children, youth and families. Many of our children are experiencing severe economic, academic and health-related challenges that threaten their future and the future of our state.
- 46,645 children under the age of 18 live in poverty
- 13,429 children under the age of 5 live in poverty
- 108,000 children live in low-income families
With so many Maine children paying the price for statewide economic hardships, our kids rely on essential programs like SNAP and TANF. However, despite increased child poverty rates in Maine, the number of children receiving these TANF and SNAP benefits has decreased. This means fewer children have access to this critical support.
- 36 percent of 4th grade students score at or above reading proficiency levels
- 35 percent of 8th grade students at or above math proficiency levels
- 23 percent of Maine’s low-income 4th grade students meet or exceed the reading proficiency levels, compared to 48 percent of their peers.
While Maine children are already struggling to meet academic proficiency levels that predict future success, Maine’s students from low-income families are sliding even further behind. By age nine, many children from low-income families are already behind their peers after only four years of school. The achievement gap can only widen from here.
- 14,954 children without health insurance
- 66,832 children who experienced two or more adverse experiences
- 15,443 children who have been told by doctor they have depression
Preventative health care plays a critical role in ensuring that healthy children can grow up to become healthy adults. Without health care coverage, many children just don’t have access to the preventative care they desperately need. The increased rate of uninsured children in Maine is cause for serious concern as the national rate of uninsured children is on the decline.
One thing we know for sure: health care coverage for children and parents is linked. When parents are uninsured, it is more likely that their children will also be uninsured, even if the children themselves are eligible for insurance coverage. Too many of Maine’s uninsured children are eligible for coverage under MaineCare but are not enrolled.
Fortunately, instead of dwelling on this troubling news, advocates and lawmakers alike can use this information to set a data-driven agenda that better serves Maine kids. Already, we have seen tremendous improvements to childhood immunization rates, number of children using tobacco and participating in underage drinking. Now, let’s approach these the next set of challenges with renewed energy and resolve to work together to move the needle on these pressing issues.
With each new edition of the Maine KIDS COUNT Data Book, our goal is to make Maine a better place to be a kid. However, just releasing the data is not enough; change requires action. So let’s not take this New Year for granted.
In 2016, let’s join together and use the KIDS COUNT Data Book to inform, educate and act to create a Maine that works for children, youth and families.