In my Inaugural Address, I made a promise to the people of Maine.
I said “There is no higher priority than our children. And with so many young people at Long Creek, with children waiting for critical mental health services, and some even losing their lives to violence in their own homes, it is high time we put children’s health and safety first. I am starting with one simple step — calling together the Children’s Cabinet for the first time in years, to tackle these issues.”
This week I kept that promise and I officially reconvened the Maine Children’s Cabinet, with our new cabinet members of course, for the first time in almost a decade!
Good morning. I am Governor Janet Mills.
Governor Angus King founded the Children’s Cabinet in 1996 as a forum for government agencies to collaborate on good policy for Maine children and youth and the Legislature enacted in into Maine law in 2001.
In keeping with its lofty mission, the Children’s Cabinet was formed of the Commissioners of the Departments of Health and Human Services, Education, Labor, Public Safety, and Corrections, in addition to the Governor’s office and various staffs.
The Children’s Cabinet began its work with four measures of success in mind: one, that Maine children succeed in school, that our youth are prepared to enter the workforce, that families are living safe and healthy lives and that Maine communities are keeping children and families at the heart of all their decisions.
The last time the Cabinet met in 2010, it submitted a report summarizing its work to the transition team of the then-incoming administration.
Since its inception, the Cabinet had achieved remarkable success towards its goals.
In its report, the Cabinet also outlined areas where it had fallen short and where it hoped the next Children’s Cabinet would succeed.
In its goal of ensuring every Maine child succeeds in school, the Children’s Cabinet urged state government to focus on reducing youth drop out, recidivism and incarceration rates.
The Cabinet also recommended that future members would lead in expanding quality and accessible early child care and education. At the time, 46 percent of all Maine preschoolers were entering school not meeting school readiness standards.
That is not to mention the stark childhood poverty rates. Back in 2010, 37 towns of the top 50 with the highest poverty rates in New England were located in Maine.
So while we have made some progress, almost a decade since those challenges were issued by the former Children’s Cabinet has gone by with no focused, substantial state action to improve the life of children in Maine.
Now, one in six Maine children still lives in poverty.
Now, the number of children suffering substantiated child abuse is up 25 percent just from 2017 to 2018.
And - while all of this is alarming to me both as a mother and grandmother and your governor - I am deeply concerned about the 50 percent increase over the last five years in child and teen suicide in Maine. Those are kids ages 10 to 19.
We’ve got to act. We are recommitting our state government to making our children a top priority and we’ve set two key goals for the Children’s Cabinet to work on over the next few years.
First, creating a comprehensive early child care and early education system in Maine that targets kids before they enter school.
The goal there is to employ a two-generational strategy by addressing the needs of children and their parents.
The Children’s Cabinet will consider how to expand quality home visiting, how to improve the quality of childcare and early childhood programs, how to align systems, including workforce opportunities across state agencies, maximize state and federal funds, and direct early funds toward children and families who need it the most.
Secondly, we are going to improve access to community based services and improve programming for vulnerable, at-risk older youth and their families, especially older youth at-risk of being involved in the juvenile justice system, or experiencing homelessness, or those in the child welfare system.
I know that our state is up to these challenges and our efforts to improve the lives of young children and youth who are struggling will pay enormous dividends for our state’s future and for these kids.
I am Governor Janet Mills. Thank you for listening.