Oxford County families are struggling. They need our support.

April is Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention Month, as proclaimed by Gov. Baldacci. Oxford County is a sportsman’s paradise, a land of beauty, with a citizenry of hard-working, heart-warming people. But how are Oxford County’s children and families doing?

The 2006 Maine Kids Count, produced by the Maine Children’s Trust, provides a status report on Maine’s children. Here are Oxford County statistics:

• The percentage of children living in poverty in 2003 was 17.4 percent, which is 22 percent higher than the Maine average.

• 36 percent of all Maine children (101,000 statewide) during 2003 lived in families with low-income.

• 51.6 percent of Oxford County children had MaineCare health insurance in 2005.

• A “livable wage” is $14.97 per hour; adequate for a single parent to support a family of three in Oxford County.

• 44.2 percent of Oxford County’s school-aged children receive subsidized school lunch.

• The teen birth rate continues to decline in Maine. However, according to the Family Planning Association of Maine, the Oxford Hills region has the fifth highest teen birth rate in our state.

• The percent of children injured in motor vehicle accidents increased from 26.5 percent in 2003 to 27.6 percent in 2004.

• Seven of the 10 leading diagnoses for in-patient hospitalizations of Maine kids age 13-17 are for mental illness.

• 2,350 children (103 from Oxford County) were in the care or custody of the Department of Health and Human Services as of December 2005, a 12.8 percent decrease from 2004.

Our children thrive in many ways, but some have vulnerabilities. Oxford County families need our support. They need us to care about our children, to care if half live in low-income households, to care that many parents work long hours to provide the best for their families. And they need us to do something to help.

As employers, we need to allow parents to attend school conferences. We need to sponsor sports teams, arts, drama and music programs, and after-school child-care programs.

As retirees, we need to reach out. Harried parents need help with transportation, getting children on and off school buses, finding help when child care arrangements break down, and smiling when a toddler is having a tantrum in the supermarket (that was your child 40 years ago).

As parents, we need to reach out, especially when stressed. We need to ask family members and friends for help transporting children. Enroll our children in community activities, take them to the library, play catch after work. Hug them every day. We need to enjoy our children because they grow up fast.

Our children are worth the effort.

Joan Churchill is director of family services for Community Concepts. For information about programs and support services, contact her at 743-7716.