Buses drop off kids at Scarborough Middle School in a lot next to the school’s main driveway in September 2020. Sean Murphy/For The Forecaster

A lot of kids in America are struggling right now. In Maine, the situation is no different.

Although a number of reasons have been floated in recent years, none are by themselves satisfactory. Depression and anxiety are on the rise. Social media can be isolating and demoralizing, but the overall effect on kids is far from clear. COVID-19 disrupted young lives in unprecedented ways, but the problems for kids started well before the pandemic.

Rather than argue over the cause, we should focus on the available solutions. We should do the things we know support children and their families – and give them the best chance to overcome obstacles and live fulfilling lives.

It’s hard to think of a more important task for our communities and at every level of government. A new report from the Maine Children’s Alliance shows why.


Throughout its 2023 Kids Count data book, the public policy and advocacy nonprofit paints a dire picture of the welfare of Maine’s young people. More than third of high school students in our state report feeling sad or hopeless. Self-harm is on the rise, too, as is suicidal ideation.


Although the decline in youth mental health began years ago, the pandemic made it much worse. The academic, social and emotional loss has been profound. Students who missed two years of in-person instruction are not only understandably behind on their studies, many are also struggling with how to behave and interact with others in school.

And though the pandemic was hard on everyone, as the existing inequities in K-12 education were made more stark, it was particularly hard on students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds.

That includes a very large number of Maine kids. About 34,000 children in Maine live in poverty – the threshold is a meager $27,740 a year for a family of four – with all the pressures and disadvantages that poverty brings. Thousands more are in families that hover just above that poverty threshold, and have all the same challenges.

Simply put, they are not in a good position to succeed.

Neither are kids who spend the first few years of their lives in unstable or abusive homes — years that will have an influence on them for the rest of their lives. More than 4,200 kids in Maine suffered maltreatment in 2021, an increase of 30% since 2017. In 2020, our rate of child maltreatment was more than double the national average.

These are devastating numbers. But by stepping in and giving vulnerable children and their families necessary resources and tools, we can make things better.



We can start right at the beginning and ensure that Maine families experiencing hardship have access to state support before a child is born. Not only does pre- and post-natal support lead to better health outcomes for mother and child, it also helps identify kids at risk of neglect or abuse, making early intervention possible.

When the editorial board met with leadership from the Department of Health and Human Services earlier this year, we were encouraged to hear that its Office of Child and Family Services was sharpening its focus on early intervention as part of the response to the unacceptable increase in child deaths in Maine. The importance of that labor-intensive work, and the appropriate funding of it, cannot be overstated.

We can also lift more people out of poverty by protecting Maine’s minimum wage. If anything, it should be raised.

The expanded federal child tax credit put in place during the pandemic, which gave many families much-needed relief, has not been renewed. With abundant proof of the good it did for low-income families, it should be. Maine should also pass its own version. There’s now a bill before the Legislature that would do just that.

The state also has to urgently close the gaps in the child mental health system, so kids can get care when they need it. It needs to support its child care industry and create a paid leave program, so parents can support their kids both financially and emotionally.

Finally, we need to continue to make investments in our schools and housing, so that families have access to health care and healthy food, so that the rising cost of living doesn’t push more and more Mainers into financial distress.

Maine kids are hurting. Let’s give their families and their communities the chance to help.

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