FARMINGTON — In response to high rates of child abuse and neglect in Franklin County, the Franklin County Children’s Task Force is taking steps to educate and support families.

The steps include more funds and staff for school programs for children, parenting classes at schools, one-one-one family work in homes and other convenient places, a parenting class at the Franklin County Detention Center and voluntary meetings with parents at a doctor’s office.

Focus groups in three areas of the county are starting with students from the University of Maine at Farmington helping to note responses, Renee Blanchet, executive director, said.

Earlier this year, Franklin was one of three counties identified as having the one of the highest rates of child abuse in the state. Androscoggin and Somerset counties are the other two, according to the Maine Department of Health and Human Services.

As part of a three-year project to establish and coordinate services to reduce child abuse in Maine, DHHS tasked the local group, along with Advocates for Children in Lewiston and the Children’s Center in Somerset, to help formulate that plan. 

Each county gathered community partners to meet and discuss the issue. The group is known as F.R.A.N.K.L.I.N. Advisory Panel or Friends Reducing Abuse and Neglect of Kids Living in our Neighborhoods.

The panel met in June to learn about the project and discuss their ideas on root causes. They met again recently to talk about the state data reviewed over the summer by Blanchet and Doug Saunders, community coordinator at the Children’s Task Force.

“Child neglect is by far the No. 1 most commonly found abuse type in Franklin County as it is statewide,” Saunders told the panel.

But, Franklin County also has the highest sex abuse rate. It is three times the state average of one per thousand children. In Franklin County, it is three children per thousand.

Neglect is defined as withholding basic needs, deprivation of food, clothing and shelter, whether intentional or otherwise, Blanchet previously said.

Children exposed to parents’ drug use may be one factor but the economy is another, she said.

An expected layoff at a local mill hovers as another potential struggle. There will be a change in “their way of life” for many children, she said. Children may look elsewhere to get what they had, she said.

The staff is trying to get into schools earlier to provide children with the skills needed to deal with issues and move, she said.

In the past, the agency only spent $30,000 a year for child abuse and neglect. That included a three-quarter time position to go into 17 schools.  

Funding has been received for more staffing. 

Parenting classes are now held in schools, where parents may feel more comfortable, she said.  A class recently started in Rangeley. Others will be held Farmington and Jay.

Transportation is an issue in the rural county.  The staff is ready to work on a parenting plan in parents’ homes or another location, even a laundromat, where parents may feel comfortable and less distracted, she said.

Doctors’ offices, with the parent’s consent, can now call the Children’s Task Force while the parent is there in cases such as an underweight baby. There are three educators available to respond to work on a parenting plan, she said.

A male parenting class will begin in November at the jail in Farmington, Saunders said. The class will be held twice a week for five weeks. 

The task force has worked to “strengthen families for over 30 years” with a variety of parenting programs and in the school with successful programs such as Baby Think It Over, Bullying and Teasing Prevention, the effects of baby shaking and what a baby influenced by drug use looks like, she said.

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