Earlier this month, the Maine Children’s Alliance presented the 2017 Maine KIDS COUNT Data Book, the state’s only comprehensive report on the well-being of Maine kids, to lawmakers at the Maine Children’s Caucus. The latest edition of the Data Book reveals that despite slight improvements in child poverty and health insurance rates, soaring infant mortality and child and teen suicide rates signal cause for concern.
“If we want all Maine children to reach their full potential, we need to make sure they have resources, support and access to opportunity from birth into adulthood.” – Claire Berkowitz, MCA Executive Director
Over the past decade, infant mortality rates have risen across the state and the new report shows that this trend is continuing. In 2015, Maine experienced an infant mortality rate of 6.7 deaths per 1,000 live births compared to just 5.4 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2005 and well above the national rate of 5.9 deaths per 1,000 live births.
While the high rate infant mortality is troubling in itself, it is important to pay attention to these rates because they tend to reflect overall child health and well-being. As a result, Maine’s high rates could signal much larger systemic problems from access to health care services and coverage to poverty and education.
In Maine, there has also been an alarming increase in the child and teen suicide rate, which has left many communities understandably shaken. Between 2009 and 2014, the child and teen suicide rate jumped from 4.3 to 6.9 per 100,000 deaths. This data indicates a need to improve access to mental health care and strengthen services for children, families and communities.
Fortunately, Maine has experienced improvements in health care coverage rates for children. Between 2014 and 2015, the rate of uninsured children in Maine dropped from 6.5 to 5.5 percent of all children ages 0-18. This decline is consistent with the slight change nationally, however, Maine’s rate of uninsured children is still above the national average.
Of the over 14,500 children living without health insurance, an estimated 8,000 live in low-income families and are likely eligible for health care coverage through MaineCare. At MCA, we are working to make sure these kids get the coverage they need and are eligible for through the Connecting Kids to Coverage project.
In other good news, fewer Maine children are living in poverty. While it is encouraging to see this process, Maine is still not at pre-recession child poverty levels, which means there is a lot more work to be done. Between 2014 and 2015, the child poverty rate for children under 18 decreased from 19 percent to 17.5 percent. This reflects the national trend. Of the over 43,000 Maine children who live in poverty, more than 12,000 children are under the age of five.
Without the resources and support, child poverty can have lasting consequences. Studies show that poverty can interfere with brain development early on and limit academic achievement as well as education and life outcomes. This is apparent in the Maine reading data.
While roughly a third of Maine fourth-graders are scoring at or above reading proficiency levels, there is a clear achievement gap by free and reduced lunch eligibility. In 2015, only 23 percent of students eligible for free and reduced lunch scored at or above reading proficiency levels, compared to 48 percent of their ineligible peers.
The Data Book reveals how Maine is working for our children. Download the 2017 Maine KIDS COUNT Data Book today to learn more!