Pinwheels are a symbol of hope. During the month of April pinwheels are also the symbol for child abuse and neglect prevention both here in Maine and across the nation.

One of the most hopeful times in our lives is the time in which we are expectant parents. We hope that our babies are born healthy, and we hope that their lives are filled with wonder, laughter, fun, love and good health.

For some new parents, however, the experience can be overwhelming. This is especially true if parents are young and did not have solid parent role models in their own lives. Being a new parent can be exhausting and stressful for everyone. At such times, parents need to learn to how to cope with these situations and how to keep their child safe.

Tragically, too many Maine children fall victim to child abuse and neglect, and the vast majority of these cases are at the hands of adults entrusted with their care. As chiefs of police, no case is more devastating for us to investigate.

More than 4,000 children in Maine were substantiated victims of child abuse and neglect in Maine in 2012, according to the Maine Children’s Alliance. This is a particular concern to us, given the fact that this number increased by more than 500 children over the previous year, and, in fact, is a reversal of the previous trend, which showed a decline in cases in 2010 and 2011. Those of us in law enforcement also know that thousands of additional cases go unreported and undetected each year.

The importance of preventing acts of violence against children cannot be overstated. Extensive evidence shows that children who suffere abuse or neglect are more likely to grow up to be involved in later crimes. A small portion of these children, 4 percent in one study, grows up to be violent criminals.

Children who have been abused or neglected are also more likely to face other major hurdles in their lives, often struggling in school, struggling to get and keep a job and struggling in their relationships with others.

It is possible, however, to break the cycle of abuse and neglect, and that is a primary goal and focus of the Maine Families Home Visiting Program.

Last year, these programs offered parenting education to more than 2,000 pregnant women and new parents. The program is delivered in homes by trained specialists, who work to ensure a safe home environment, promote healthy growth and development of babies and young children, and provide key community connections for families.

Forty-three percent of the programs’ mothers were 22 or younger when their first child was born; 145 were younger than 18. While the program is available to families facing challenges prenatally until their child turns 3, the average length of participation per family served is 14 months.

For the families involved with the Maine Families’ program last year, 92 percent of the children were up-to-date on immunizations, 99.7 percent had a primary care provider, 97.6 percent had health insurance and 88 percent were up-to-date on their well-child check-ups.

Seventy-three percent of parents who were involved with Child Protective Services at enrollment had no further substantiated allegations for child abuse and neglect during their participation in the Maine Families program.

Home visitors also helped families conduct a home safety assessment and worked with parents to address any safety concerns.

Home visitors also identified about 100 children who had developmental delays. They referred these children to early support services to address these delays before the children become school age.

Evaluation of the Maine Home Visiting Program is under way, and it continues to show that these programs are working. The evaluations also help the program best meet the needs of parents and their children.

These programs help instill hope in young and often struggling families. They offer us law enforcement leaders the hope that these families never need our services.

We hope policymakers in Augusta and Washington see the positive outcomes of these programs and continue to support them in the state and federal budgets.

 

Robert Gregoire is chief of police in Augusta and Michael Tracy is chief of police in Oakland and president of the Maine Chiefs of Police Association. Both are members of Fight Crime: Invest In Kids, an anti-crime organization of more than 5,000 police chiefs, sheriffs, prosecutors and violence survivors.

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