August 04, 2020

Maine Kids Count, an annual collection of data about the health and welfare of children, showed again this week that Maine residents have done some remarkable things to give most children a great start in life. But there remains a sizable population of kids without access to what most people take for granted.

Maine stands among the leaders in the nation for its infant-mortality and immunization rates and for providing expectant mothers with prenatal care. Combine that early medical care with a nurturing family, a low-crime community and good schools and about all there is to complain about is black flies during baseball season. But not all Maine children are so fortunate: nearly 31,000 — 10 percent — do not have health insurance .

This figure may seem to describe merely a risky circumstance that could be solved by introducing the children’s parents to Maine’s strong job market, but it actually indicates more serious trouble and shows why the Kids Count book is so valuable. First, 85 percent of the parents of uninsured children have jobs; they either aren’t offered health insurance through their work or cannot afford to buy it on their own. Second, that 1-in-10 figure comes after 5,000 children were insured through the State Child Health Insurance Program last year, or the number would have been a lot higher. Third, the number is a lot higher for children in need of dental care.

The data book is produced by the Maine Children’s Alliance, whose president is BDN publisher Richard J. Warren. One important detail it offers is the lack of preventive health care through primary physicians for children without insurance. In short, these children get their symptoms treated, often at an emergency room, but may not get the attention needed to detect underlying causes of an illness. As a result, children without insurance generally are less healthy than kids with it.

The data book also tracks social conditions such as access to programs like Head Start, the increasing number of cases of child abuse and the increase among children in the use of illegal substances. If there is an overall message to these numbers, it might be that Maine does a wonderful job welcoming infants to the world but needs to continue that level of care as children grow older.

The bare economic facts of starting babies off right and keeping them healthy are not the only or most important reasons to offer early-childhood services, but they count and count even more heavily as children grow up. The millions of dollars that will be spent to upgrade the state’s juvenile corrections facilities are a small part of that cost.

Maine has proved it can improve life for its youngest citizens; the data book points out how it can continue to do it as they grow.

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