As a recent Press Herald editorial noted, the recently released Maine Children’s Alliance Kids Count Data Book brought some staggering trends into stark relief (“Our View: Child welfare report should light a fire under Maine,” April 30). High child poverty rates, disturbing trends in abuse and neglect among Maine’s children, and heartbreaking statistics about the mental health of our kids should be a call to action for anyone who cares about the future of our children and our state.

Here at the John T. Gorman Foundation, we are concerned by these trends and their implications. In response, we have recently refocused our efforts and support in three ways: investing more intensively in our state’s children, focusing on building resiliency and preventing Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), and using whole-family approaches that serve parents and children simultaneously.

As we collectively look for effective responses to the latest data, we believe there is much to learn from these approaches – and the partnerships that exemplify them. Around the state, dozens of organizations are trying innovative approaches to tackling these challenges and are seeing promising results.

From the very beginning, children need the right conditions for growth and development, or they face risks to their health, well-being and opportunities as adults. These conditions start even before birth; specifically, with access to quality prenatal care. In Maine, there are deep disparities when it comes to race – from 2019-21, just 60% of pregnant Black women in Maine accessed prenatal care in the first trimester, compared to 86% of all mothers. Without this vital care, there are health risks to both mother and child.

To address this concerning issue, a partnership between Mercy Hospital and In Her Presence will house pregnant women of color, providing them with quality care from trained doulas as well as wraparound supports during and after their pregnancy. While this effort is just getting underway, we are confident that it will have a consequential effect on the families.

Promoting healthy child development also means preventing and mitigating the risk of ACEs. ACEs are potentially traumatic events that occur in childhood – for example, experiencing violence, abuse and neglect, or growing up in a household with too few resources, substance misuse or family instability. ACEs are linked to chronic health problems, mental illness, and substance use problems later in life. About one in five Maine children have experienced two or more ACEs.


However, research has shown that ACEs can be countered. We can build resiliency and help prevent or mitigate ACEs before their effects become more difficult to address. A prime example is an innovative model at MaineHealth pediatric clinics to identify and support children at risk of ACEs. Early childhood support specialists work with hundreds of families to connect them to the resources they need to build resiliency and create healthier environments at home.

As this initiative shows, having a positive impact on children means addressing parent and family outcomes as well. From infancy, children rely on their parents to learn about and cultivate the habits and skills that will ensure their health and social and emotional development. Yet parents’ abilities to provide this care can be inhibited by many factors, including poor health, poverty, and barriers to accessing community resources.

That is why many of the initiatives we support use a two-generation approach, which acknowledges the interdependency of children and their caregivers by supporting them both simultaneously. For example, Bangor Housing’s Moving Families Forward program helps parents along career, education and asset-building pathways; gives families access to a range of services to improve their overall well-being; and offers quality after-school and summer programming through the Boys & Girls Club.

There is so much more to learn through exploring and testing new strategies. For the sake of Maine children, we need to be prepared to upend systems that aren’t working and reimagine what’s possible. The John T. Gorman Foundation has committed to using our resources to focus on doing just that. We hope you will join us.

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