Report: Kids doing OK in state; rank slips

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The good news is that Maine ranks better than most states for the overall well-being of children, according to a national report released today.

The bad news is that Maine’s ranking has fallen since 2000.

National trends in child well-being have improved slightly since 2000, according to the annual “Kids Count Data Book” report by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. “Overall, the outlook for Maine kids is pretty good,” said Laura Beavers, a researcher and author of the annual report.

But the state isn’t doing as well as it once had, falling from No. 5 in the nation in 2000 to No. 15 in 2007.

One of the biggest reasons for the drop is that more Maine children are living in poverty, due in part to parents holding low-paying jobs, Beavers said.

In 2000, 12 percent of all Maine children lived in poverty. In the latest report, 17 percent were living in poverty, defined as a family of four with $19,806 or less of annual income.

“Kids who grow up in poverty have worse outcomes on a lot of different measures,” Beavers said. They’re less likely to get health care, more likely to miss school, less likely to have quality child care.

Their daily quality of life can suffer, Beavers said. “Their parents tend to be more stressed and have less time for the kids.”

According to the report, 65 percent of children living in poverty come from homes where at least one parent works full time.

In several other “Kids Count” child well-being indicators, “Maine was going in the opposite direction from the rest of the country,” Beavers said. The numbers of high school dropouts and “idle teens” – those who don’t work and aren’t in school – are growing, Beavers said.

Nationwide, the dropout rate was 7 percent, the same as in Maine. But nationally the dropout rate had improved four percentage points since 2000, while Maine’s worsened two percentage points.

Nationally, 8 percent of teens were “idle,” compared to 7 percent of Maine teens. The state’s percentage was better than the national average, but worsened by four percentage points from 2000.

Too many foster children

Another concern for Maine is the high number of children lingering in foster care. For every 1,000 Maine children, 12 were in foster care, compared with 10 for every 1,000 nationally.

“Kids who age out of foster care without permanent attachment to family members have greater odds they’ll be poor as adults, will be undereducated and underemployed, so it’s a real issue,” Beavers said.

Efforts to strengthen families with education and more crisis intervention are ways to keep kids safe and avoid pulling families apart, Beavers said.

Since the 2001 death of Logan Marr, a 5-year-old girl who died while in foster care, Maine has made “promising” foster care reform such as less reliance on residential care for teens, better matching kids with families, finding permanent living options for children and including family members in more meetings and decisions.

Compared to other states, Maine has fewer children who go without health coverage, 7 percent compared to 11 percent nationally.

And tougher state regulations have allowed Maine to improve the quality of child care, Beavers said. “Research shows quality child care means better development outcomes for kids.”

Another bright spot is that the number of Maine teens having babies continues to decline. For every 1,000 births nationally, 41 were to teens. Maine’s rate is 24 for every 1,000 births, about half the national rate.

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