By Butch Asselin
Special to the Houlton Pioneer Times
Governors all across our nation are issuing proclamations naming April “Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention Month.”
Anyone who has been a parent knows it’s a tough job, particularly when children are very young. Some families without natural role models and extended family close by need support to understand their children’s health and safety needs and to develop basic parenting skills. Without this support, thousands of Maine’s children face a heightened risk of abuse and neglect that can endanger their lives and well-being.
According to the annual Maine Kids Count Report, more than 4,000 children in Maine were substantiated victims of child abuse and neglect in 2012. This number is alarming in and of itself.
We also know from our experiences in law enforcement and from research that the number of reported abuse and neglect cases is just a fraction of the actual incidents.
We also are too keenly aware that abuse victims are more likely than non-victims to become abusers themselves, or involved in other crime. One research study tells us that about one-third of adults who were abused will abuse their own children. Other research shows that abused children are 29 percent more likely to become violent criminals as juveniles or adults who otherwise would have avoided such crimes if not for the abuse and neglect they endured as children. Research has also shown that approximately half of the youth arrested for delinquency had been abused or neglected earlier in their lives.
Fortunately, many young families in Maine are getting the help they need through the Maine Families Home Visiting Program. In this program caring professionals help parents build skills and confidence for managing the stresses of parenting a young child. They provide tools for understanding child behavior and addressing behavior challenges. These interventions can go a long way in ensuring children’s health and safety. Maine Families Aroostook County is located locally on Bangor Street.
Home visitors also help families prevent potential injuries and trips to the emergency room by conducting a home safety assessment and then assisting families to address any identified problems. In addition, home visitors identified about 130 children with possible developmental delays and referred these children to early support services, to address these delays before the children become school age.
Not all children who are abused will turn to crime or abuse their own children. But giving at-risk children the best odds of success is important.
Here in Maine we ask the governor and state legislators to support and expand the Maine Families program to serve more families in need. It is our hope that Maine’s youngest citizens are in the forefront of policymakers’ minds — not only during April, but all year.
Butch Asselin is chief of police of the Houlton Police Department and is a member of the national anti-crime organization Fight Crime: Invest In Kids.