YORK — On March 20, I spoke in favor of an investment in families that’s going to pay big dividends in public safety in the coming years. I did so at a hearing with Maine’s Joint Committee on Health and Human Services, where we discussed the value of voluntary home visiting programs, which work with parents to support their children’s healthy growth and development.

Home visitors are family support professionals who are invited into the homes of expectant mothers and parents of infants and toddlers. Their mission is to help the parents deal appropriately with stressful situations that could lead to child abuse and neglect and help parents understand how to make their homes safer for kids. Many home visitors also promote self-sufficiency among the parents by encouraging them to complete their education and become productive members of the workforce.

The most emotionally difficult portion of my comments focused on the absolute necessity of protecting children. Based on the Maine Kids Count Data Book, we know that in one recent year there were more than 3,200 documented cases of child abuse and neglect, yet virtually anyone in law enforcement will tell you there are probably many more that go unreported or undetected.

At the very least, this abuse and neglect can lead to social and emotional problems that significantly hinder children’s ability to get along well with others, do well in school and succeed in the workforce. Sometimes the outcomes are far worse, as in two highly publicized cases where children were killed at the hands of adults who were supposed to be caring for them.

While I spoke extensively based on my own experience when describing the value of voluntary home visiting, I can also cite long-term research that shows participation can cut child abuse and neglect, improve high school graduation rates and reduce involvement in crime later in life.

I can also cite tangible impacts of the Maine Families home visiting program right here in our state. In 2018, the program served 160 families who already had involvement with the child protective services system when they enrolled. About 91 percent of them – 145 families – had no further reports of child abuse or neglect during their participation in the program.

Health outcomes for children who participated in the Maine Families program are also impressive. Last year, 92 percent of those kids between the ages of 19 months and 36 months had up-to-date immunizations; 99.9 percent had an identified primary care provider; 98 percent had health insurance, and 72 percent were up to date with their checkups.

Based on these proven outcomes and many more, I know that supporting voluntary home visiting programs in the next biennium is a smart strategy for strengthening families and our community. That’s why I’m all-in on the two pieces of legislation that will make that happen. L.D. 115 would provide funding to enable Maine Families to serve more parents with young children – enabling the organization to go from serving 8 percent of the eligible families to 15 percent. L.D. 1225 would strengthen our home vising workforce and expand services for foster families caring for infants.

Both measures are a fitting tribute to April as Child Abuse and Prevention Month, and to our quest to improve public safety by ensuring more children grow up healthy and prepared to lead productive lives.

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