The number of children in state custody increased by 17 percent and the number of children in foster care rose by 20 percent from 2017 to 2018, according to a new report.

Additionally, Maine led the nation in 2017 for the highest rate of children diagnosed with anxiety disorders and was third for the rate of children diagnosed with depression.

But the state also has made strides in other other areas related to child welfare, including declining rates of childhood poverty, infant mortality and teen pregnancy.

Those were some of the highlights of the 2019 Kids Count data book, a compilation of data on how the state has fared in several measures related to child and family welfare compiled by the Augusta-based nonprofit Maine Children’s Alliance. The 25th annual report, released Thursday, was funded by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, which funds similar efforts in other states.

Maine Children’s Alliance officials said the data is meant to help policymakers as they consider reforms or debate how best to allocate state resources.

“When confronted with such a wide variety and amount of data, it can be difficult to remember that these numbers represent real children,” Helen Hemminger, research associate for the organization, said in a statement. But by understanding the data, decision makers, business leaders, elected officials and community members can make informed decisions that will help Maine’s children reach their full potential.”

Shawn Yardley, CEO of the Lewiston-based social service agency Community Concepts, said the data represents a detached view of what he and others see every day.

“Some kids are doing better, a lot are doing worse,” he said. “The numbers in the aggregate sort of softens things on both sides.”

Read the report

The number of children in state custody increased from 1,531 to 1,791 from 2017 to 2018 and the number waiting to be adopted increased from 480 to 576. Only eight other states have as high a rate of children waiting to be adopted. This is not a surprise, Yardley said, given all the news that has come out about challenges with Maine’s child protection system.

“The encouraging thing for me is that we’re having a sustained conversation about some of this stuff,” he said. “The discouraging thing is that we’re having the same conversations we’ve had 10, even 20 years ago.”

Other data is concerning, too.

In 2017, 16.1 percent (33,829 children) were diagnosed with anxiety disorders, nearly twice the national rate of 8.2 percent. The rate of children diagnosed with depression, 6.2 percent or 10,638 children, also was well above the national rate of 3.8 percent.

Teen suicide has increased by 50 percent from 5.3 deaths per 100,000 between 2008 and 2012 to 8.1 deaths per 100,000 from 2013-17.

But the Kids Count report wasn’t all bad.

Childhood poverty in Maine dropped to 15.2 percent in 2017, the lowest rate in more than a decade. The rate of uninsured children dropped from 5.5 percent to 4.8 percent. Youth incarceration is at its lowest point ever, from 300 juveniles in custody 20 years ago to 39 last year.

Fewer teens are getting pregnant (from 834 in 1992 to 170 in 2017) and fewer juveniles are being arrested (81 per 1,000 youths in 1997 to 26 per 1,000 in 2017).

The rates of use of alcohol, tobacco and marijuana among youth all continue to decline and all three are below the national rates.

The number of children born drug-affected also decreased slightly last year for the first time in five years, to 952 from 1,024 the year before. But that still represents 1 out of ever 12 children born, and heroin, fentanyl or synthetic opiates were present in almost 80 percent of cases.

Lawmakers have not made any final decisions about funding priorities for the next two-year budget, but Gov. Janet Mills and the Democratic-led Legislature have signaled that they likely will differ from the priorities during former Gov. Paul LePage’s tenure. Mills has even reinstated a so-called children’s cabinet within her administration to tackle issues specific to Maine’s children.

“It’s not just about resources, but I think there are many people, myself included, who see value in spending the money up front rather than paying for it in other ways down the road,” said Yardley, using the example of early childhood education funding.

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