FARMINGTON — After months of seeking input on the root causes and risk factors associated with Franklin County’s high rate of child abuse, a plan based on education and support is ready to launch April 1.

Members of the advisory panel, Friends Reducing Abuse & Neglect of Kids Living in our Neighborhoods, or FRANKLIN, gathered Tuesday morning to hear an update on the work and plan.

The most-identified risk factors — reaped from interviews, focus groups, surveys and an advisory panel — are mental health challenges and substance use problems, said Renee Whitley, executive director of the Franklin County Children’s Task Force.

Two priority goals are reducing neglect among children ages birth to 3 years old and reducing maltreatment of all types among children ages 5 to 14 in Franklin County, she said.

Some identified root causes of these issues include:

• lack of parenting skills;

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• lack of knowledge about child development skills;

• not having enough resilience;

• lack of coping skills; and

• lack of social connections and support.  

A lack of support sometimes stems from pride or a fear of the stigma attached to reaching out, she said.

The nearly 20-page plan includes five objectives spelling out strategies to combat these lacks through educational and support-focused opportunities and events.

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The Task Force staff will need to work collectively with other organizations to provide help, said Stacie Bourassa, community educator at FCCTF.

The advisory panel of community partners met last June and learned that Franklin, Androscoggin and Somerset counties have the highest rates of child abuse in the state, according to data from the Maine Department of Health and Human Services.

DHHS partnered with the Maine Children’s Trust to create a three-year project to establish and coordinate services to reduce child abuse.

The goal is to reduce the number of children under state care by 500 over three years. Maine child abuse rates are high and many children fall into state care, Whitley previously said. About 2,500 children are now in state custody. 

The three counties were chosen as demonstration sites and were tasked with formulating a plan. Advocates for Children in Lewiston and the Children’s Center in Somerset County have conducted their research and developed a plan, Bourassa said.  

Each county found some root causes in common and developed similar objectives, she said. More counties will be drawn in and will have these models to use as guidelines.

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