As Auburn’s chief of police, and someone who has watched too many at-risk kids grow up to become involved in crime, I’m always pleased to support efforts to get kids started on the right path in life and help keep them safe. With that in mind I strongly urge our policymakers and our community to expand participation in Head Start and voluntary home visiting programs for the sake of children today and crime reduction in the years to come.

There has been a great deal of research on the value of quality preschool programs, which reduce crime by helping more children develop a foundation for long-term academic success so they don’t fall behind and drop out of school.

A long-term study of Chicago’s Child-Parent Centers, which has served more than 100,000 three- and four-year-olds, found at-risk kids left out of the program were 70 percent more likely to be arrested for a violent crime by age 18 than those who participated.

Similarly, children left out of another high quality program, the High/Scope Perry Preschool, were five times more likely to be chronic offenders with five or more arrests by age 27.

Students who participate in high-quality early learning programs such as those also do better academically and socially in school, are more likely to graduate on time, less likely to need special education services and more likely to be employed as adults.

Maine can have similar results if we create and sustain high-quality early learning opportunities. We can also save a lot of money for taxpayers. Studies have shown that Head Start can return, on average, a “profit” (economic benefit minus costs) to society of nearly $14,000 for every child served.

I want to emphasize that to achieve these results, programs must be high-quality, which aptly describes the Head Start program we have here in Maine.

This became especially clear during the past three years, when federal Head Start administrators implemented new rules requiring 25 percent of the lowest performing Head Starts to re-compete for their funding. None of Maine’s Head Start programs has been asked to do so.

The most recent Maine Kids Count report tells us that, in 2012, approximately 3,500 low-income Maine children were served by Head Start programs across the state. Unfortunately, thousands of additional children were eligible for Head Start but were not enrolled in a program due to the lack of capacity.

Clearly Maine has a large unmet need for our most at-risk youngsters. Cutting state support for Head Start will not help us address those inadequacies.

Law enforcement also supports evidence-based home visiting programs, through which young, inexperienced parents spend time with trained mentors who help them understand their children’s health needs, create safer homes, and develop skills to deal with stressful child-rearing situations.

Research has shown participation in quality home visiting programs can cut child abuse and neglect in half. That creates additional future savings on multiple fronts.

The need for voluntary home visiting is dire in our state. Maine’s Kids Count report states that there were more than 4,000 substantiated cases of child abuse and neglect in 2012 alone.

That is terrible for the kids and for our community, because research shows abused and neglected children are 29 percent more likely to become violent criminals as they grow older. Year after year, abuse and neglect create more violent crimes.

These criminals can spend their adult lives in and out of the correctional system. The cost to taxpayers to house an inmate in a county jail ranges from $95 to $155 per day. That’s an annual cost of between $35,000 and $57,000 to our criminal justice system — and our taxpayers — per individual.

My law enforcement colleagues and I support evidence-based approaches. Head Start and home visiting are proven to give kids, at the youngest stages of development, the ability to become contributing members of society, rather than a huge drain on public coffers.

They deserve continued support.

Phillip Crowell Jr. is the Auburn chief of police and president of the Maine Chiefs of Police Association.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: