Number of kids in poverty dropped in 2021, Maine Children’s Alliance finds

By Leela Stockley, Bangor Daily News Staff

A report on child welfare released by the Maine Children’s Alliance on April 25 found that the number of Maine children living in poverty decreased in 2021, but remains an issue in rural areas. 

Across the state, around 34,000 children — about 11.2 percent — lived in poverty in 2021, according to the report. York and Cumberland counties report the lowest rates of child poverty in the state, with around 10 percent of children under 18 living in poverty. Washington and Piscataquis counties, with the lowest average household income in Maine, reported the highest rates of child poverty in the state. 

Maine’s rate of child maltreatment was the highest in the country in 2020 at 19 cases per 1,000 children, more than twice the average national rate. Child maltreatment is considered any instance of abuse or neglect experienced by a minor because of a parent or caregiver, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

The Maine Child Welfare Services Ombudsman found “substantial issues” in the state’s child welfare system after reviewing more than more than 80 cases involving more than 160 children following the deaths of four young children in 2021. The report stated that in multiple cases the Office of Child and Family Services failed to gather enough information to determine whether a child was safe to remain in a home. It also said the office sometimes failed to recognize risk to a child.

The report also highlighted Maine’s growing mental health challenges, with at least one in four teenagers between 12 and 17 reporting anxiety in a 2020-21 survey. At least half of young women surveyed reported feeling sad and hopeless in 2021. The Maine Integrated Youth Health Survey found in December that at least 29.6 percent of Maine middle-schoolers and nearly 36 percent of high-schoolers experienced sad or hopeless feelings in 2021. 

In 2022, there were 2,654 visits to emergency rooms for suicidal thoughts or attempts by Mainers under 19. That’s a significant increase from the 2,145 visits reported in 2020.

Maine’s graduation rates have stayed steady over the past two years at 86.1 percent, but that’s down from an 87.4 percent graduation rate in 2020. Bangor High School had one of the highest graduation rates in the state during the 2021-22 school year, with 89.86 percent of its students graduating last June. 

While graduation rates are increasing across the state, drug and alcohol use in teens has continued to decline over the past three years, with rates of vaping significantly declining since 2019. In 2021, around 17.1 percent of high school students reported using an e-cigarette regularly, while that number was at 28.7 percent in 2019. Teen use of alcohol, marijuana and traditional tobacco also declined since 2019. 

Currently, Maine legislators are headed for another showdown over a proposed flavored tobacco ban, which health advocates say helps to get teenagers using vaping products. At least six towns already have implemented bans on the sale of flavored vaping products, but the outcome of a proposed statewide ban is unclear.

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