Saying “children are our future” is a nice sentiment, but without policies that ensure the well-being of our children, it is hollow. For more than a decade, the Maine Children’s Alliance has been at the center of creating such policies. The group has done this by collecting, analyzing and sharing data so that proposals can be evaluated for their consequences to children and families. As a result of this work, Maine has reformed departments and policies — and the well-being of its children has increased.
Ellie Goldberg was hired as the first president and CEO of the alliance in 1994. She left last month but won’t stop advocating for Maine’s children and young families.
The alliance is perhaps best known for its annual report on the status of children in Maine, Maine Kids Count, which is part of a national effort by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. The annual report uses measures such as poverty rates, tobacco, alcohol and drug use, graduation rates, and children in state custody — and their changes over time — to help policymakers see whether their work is improving or harming children.
One of the most concrete examples of the alliance’s work is the improvements made to the state’s child welfare system after the death of Logan Marr at the hands of her foster mother, an employee of the state Department of Health and Human Services. After this tragedy, there were many calls for reform.
Rather than just rearrange the department, major changes in policy were made, building upon advocacy by the children’s alliance. One was the creation of a child welfare ombudsman program, which is administered by the alliance. An Office of Child and Family Services with a Division of Early Childhood formed within the department.
The department also revamped its system for removing children from their homes. A decade ago, Maine ranked 47th in the nation in terms of children who were returned to their homes in the first year of state custody. Today, Maine is seventh. This is much better for families and saves the state money.
Under Ms. Goldberg’s leadership, the alliance also has been a successful advocate for more focus on early childhood, including the creation of the Start ME Right Coalition, which successfully convinced state lawmakers to use some of Maine’s tobacco settlement money for child care and early education. It also successfully pushed for expansion of the Children’s Health Insurance Program. Bangor Daily News Publisher Richard Warren is a member of the alliance’s advisory council.
The state — and especially its children and families — is better due to the work of the alliance and the service of its founding president.