Maine has seen improvements for kids in key areas over the past 25 years, but this year’s data indicates we should be concerned about how our youngest children are faring
MARCH 28, 2019 – The Maine Children’s Alliance released the latest edition of the Maine KIDS COUNT® Data Book, marking 25 years of producing this compilation of the most comprehensive data on the status and well-being of children in Maine. KIDS COUNT® is a project of the Maine Children’s Alliance (MCA), a nonpartisan, data-focused advocate for public policies that improve the lives of Maine’s children, youth and families.
“Since the publication of the first Maine KIDS COUNT® Data Book in 1994, we have followed trends over time in children’s health and well-being,” said Claire Berkowitz, executive director of the Maine Children’s Alliance. “One thing is certain: when parents, providers, and policymakers use data to make informed decisions and prioritize investments in Maine kids, the lives of those children and their families are improved, both in the present and in their future success.”
Over the course of the last 25 years, Maine has seen significant improvement in some key indicators of health and well-being for children. The number of teen births in 1992 was 834, compared to 186 in 2017 – a reduction of 78 percent. In another gain, the percent of people over age 25 who have at least a high school degree went from 84.3 in 1994 to 93.2 percent in 2017. For juvenile arrests, the rate in 2017 was 25.5 per 1,000 youth ages 12-17, down significantly from 81.1 per 1,000 youth in 1997. For every three youth arrested in 1994, only one would be arrested in 2017. And in Maine, the percent of children without health care coverage in 1993 was 8.7, while today, thanks in part to the Children’s Health Insurance Program, those rates have fallen to 4.8 percent.
While we have made progress in some areas of children’s health, there are concerning trends in how our youngest children are faring.
- In each of the last 5 years, approximately one in twelve babies in Maine was born substance exposed/affected.
- And while Maine used to lead the country with low rates of infant mortality, recently that number had risen to a high of 6.7 deaths per 1,000 births before decreasing slightly to 6.3 - still above the national average.
Access to early intervention services for infants with developmental delays is essential to improving outcomes and preventing delays later on, but Maine currently ranks 50th in the nation for the rate of infants provided with these services before the age of one. These data all point to larger problems with access to prenatal care, evidence-based programs that support new parents in the home, and early services for infants with special needs.
- In 2018, there were 1,791 children in state custody, a rate of 7.6 per 1,000 children ages 0-17.
- That rate is up from 6.5 in the previous year. In addition, there were 576 children in foster care waiting to be adopted, up from 480 in 2012 – a 20 percent increase.
It is critical for favorable outcomes for children in state custody that, when reunification is not safe or possible, a stable, permanent family situation must be created as quickly as possible.
Access to quality, affordable health care is critical for child health and overall well-being. Maine has seen improvements in its rates of uninsured children, down to 4.8 percent in 2016, from 5.5 percent the prior year. And as Maine implements Medicaid expansion, we expect to see that rate continue to improve, as parents of low-income children gain coverage.
“To build a brighter future for our kids, it is imperative that we use data to inform our policy decisions and to track our progress over time,” said Helen Hemminger, research and KIDS COUNT associate at the Maine Children’s Alliance. “KIDS COUNT is a treasure trove of data related to education, poverty, health and youth risk factors.”
- There is cause for concern related to mental health indicators for children. In 2017, Maine held the highest rate in the nation of children diagnosed with anxiety disorders, the third highest rate of children with diagnosed depression, and the highest rate for the percentage of youth accessing mental health counseling.
- In addition, Maine has experienced an alarming rate of teen suicides. While the rate varies by year, at 8.1 suicide deaths per 100,000 youth ages 10-19, Maine’s five-year average has risen by 50 percent and is well above the national average of 5.5 suicide deaths per 100,000 youth.
In other ways, Maine adolescents are leading healthier and safer lives. The percentage of high school students reporting alcohol and cigarette use has decreased steadily since 2001. The percentage of students reporting smoking cigarettes has decreased by 65 percent, and the percentage of students reporting drinking alcohol has decreased by just over 50 percent. Despite these reductions, there is an increase in overall tobacco use and cause for concern in the increasing risks associated with the use of e-cigarettes. Arrests for juveniles in Maine and in the nation are significantly down. In addition, the number of youths incarcerated in Maine has dropped from 318 in 1997 to 39 detained or committed as of December 2018.
There is good news this year in terms of child poverty, in which Maine saw the deepest decline in the country between 2016 and 2017 and has fallen from 19.8 percent in 2012 to 14.2 percent in 2017. Despite this gain, Maine’s child poverty rate is still higher than all the other New England states, except Rhode Island, with 35,000 children still living in poverty.
Anti-poverty programs like TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) and SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) can alleviate the negative effects of poverty on children.
- But, TANF serves significantly fewer Maine children and families than before the 2012 implementation of a 60-month lifetime limit on the program and stricter sanction policy covering the entire family.
- As of December 2018, there were just 7,014 children receiving TANF – down from 15,293 children in 2012 – even while there are more than 14,000 children living in deep poverty.
Reading and math skills are foundational tools for future learning success for children. Despite this, based on Maine Educational Assessment (MEA) test scores, just over half of Maine students are proficient in reading at the end of 4th grade and only two out of five 8th graders are proficient in math. And wide disparities exist across income levels for both reading and math, for both 4th graders and 8th graders.
Maine currently has the 9th highest rate of identifying and serving children ages 3-5 with disabilities, and the highest rate in the nation for students ages 6-20 receiving special education services. However, Maine lags behind all other states in its rate for serving infants under age one with a disability, in 2018 serving only 249 Maine children, at a rate of less than 2 percent.
In an aging state like Maine with workforce issues, it is important to reduce the rate of disconnected youth – those neither attending school nor working. In Maine, we are seeing improvements in these rates, with a current rate of 4.9 percent of teens ages 16-19 not attending school or working, down from 5.9 percent the previous year, and better than the national rate of 6.8 percent. More students in Maine are also graduating from college, at 53 percent in 2017, up from 48 percent the previous year. While this shows improvement for our youth, Maine continues to have the lowest rate of young adults having enrolled in or completed college in New England.
“When all Maine children have the resources, support and opportunity to thrive, we all benefit,” said Claire Berkowitz, executive director of the Maine Children’s Alliance. “The 2019 report provides us the opportunity to make sure the policies and practices seek to improve the lives of all our children, especially children in immigrant families and children of color.”
This year, several indicators illustrate racial and ethnic disparities that exist as a result of historic racism and systemic inequalities. Early prenatal care can provide critical information about physical and behavioral risk factors affecting both mother and child. Yet African American women in Maine are less likely to receive prenatal care in the first trimester compared to white women: 75 percent vs. 91 percent. In rates of children identified with a disability and placed in special education services, data shows significant disproportionality particularly for American Indian students in Maine, with 30% having any disability. In Maine and in the nation, children of color continue to experience higher rates of poverty. In Maine, the African American child poverty rate of 53 percent was well above the national average of 36 percent.
“When confronted with such a wide variety and amount of data, it can be difficult to remember that these numbers represent real children,” said Helen Hemminger. “But by understanding the data, decision makers, business leaders, elected officials and community members can make informed decisions that will help Maine’s children reach their full potential.”
Digital downloads of the 2019 Maine KIDS COUNT® Data Book are available online at www.mekids.org. National, state and county-level data can be found on the KIDS COUNT Data Center atdatacenter.kidscount.org. To obtain a copy of the data book, email firstname.lastname@example.org.