WASHINGTON _ Maine’s new title as the nation’s best spot for raising children brought wide smiles Tuesday from Gov. Angus King and Maine’s Congressional delegation.
“This is a wonderful honor for Maine,” King said a press conference in Washington. “This certainly tells the country something we’ve known for a long time – that Maine is a great place to raise a family.”
King joined Sen. Olympia Snowe, Rep. Thomas Allen (D-Portland) and Rep. John Baldacci (D-Bangor) to accept accolades from the Children’s Rights Council. The council has been ranking the 50 states and Washington, D.C., for the last five years. This year, Maine jumped from 8th in 1998 to claim No. 1, mostly because of consistent performance in child health and education categories.
Maine is among the states with the highest rate of immunization for children under age 2. And its infant mortality rate dropped from 6.5 deaths per 1,000 births to 4.4 deaths per 1,000 births. That’s the best infant mortality rate in the country.
King credited state bureaucrats for helping to get more children health care, more children immunized and more parents trained in early childhood care.
“They are the ones who are really getting things done,” he said.
But the state will work to keep that position and set a higher standard for raising children in the United States, King said. “Is all well with children in Maine? No, of course not,” he said. “But we are coping with the issues as well or better than the rest of the country.”
More than 25,000 children in Maine are without health care. The state legislature recently extended Medicaid to children in families making double the poverty line. But, King said, more must be done to help low-income families.
In a telephone interview, Elinor Goldberg, executive director of the Maine Children’s Alliance, also urged the state to do even more for its children. Maine will kickoff a state-wide program this fall in which social workers teach new parents how to better care for infants. But the Start ME Right program is only the beginning, she added. “Communities need to be aware of these early childhood issues,” she said. “We continually don’t bat an eye when we’re asked to fund kindergarten through 12th grade schools, but no one ever thinks about funding early child care.”
At Tuesday’s press conference, Rep. Baldacci used Maine’s top ranking to call for national strides in children’s health, education and well-being.
“Children may only be 25 percent of the population,” said Baldacci, “but they are 100 percent of the future.”