My job for the last 10 years has involved understanding the emerging brain science and economic research showing that the best return on investment of our tax dollars is in high-quality early childhood care and education.

Brain science has actually proved that abuse and emotional neglect on young children can leave them lacking a sufficiently developed hippocampus, the seat of social-emotional learning. Without intervention, a turbulent childhood may leave one with an inability to feel empathy, understand consequences, or to control impulses. Violence and neglect can also lead to feelings of vulnerability and insecurity, and, as a child grows, to the understanding that the solution to being abused is to become the abuser.

While I understand intellectually what has happened to make our president and our governor bullies, it doesn’t mean it makes it any easier to watch. In this state, the governor and his former commissioner of Health and Human Services, Mary Mayhew, have systematically dismantled the very services that would support high-quality early childhood care and learning. They have siphoned millions of state and federal dollars out of programs like Head Start, child care, child protection services, public health nursing, health care for children, and support for parents, not to mention domestic violence prevention and mental health services.

They tout the “savings” from cutting these services, ignoring the consequences. In the past six years, Maine is the only state in the nation that has experienced a rising infant mortality rate and such a steep plunge into deep poverty for young children.

Confirmed cases of physical abuse in Maine have risen 52 percent since 2008 and suspected cases of neglect and abuse by 31 percent. In the past six months, two young girls have been killed in cases involving neglect from the Department of Health and Human Services. The governor’s response is to eliminate funds for the successful Community Partnerships for Protecting Young Children despite the evidence that the program has reduced child abuse.

So, where do I find hope? The next generation.


The hardly surprising news that there had been another massacre of children in school was met with a thoroughly surprising response by the surviving children of that school. The not-surprising response of both President Donald Trump and Gov. Paul LePage was to tout the idiotic belief that teachers should be armed.

The majority of adults in this country are in favor of reasonable gun laws, but for the last two decades we have allowed our politicians to be bought by the gun manufacturers’ shill. My hope springs from those who can’t even vote yet finally taking matters into their own hands. They are organizing, and vowing to remember who was and wasn’t willing to protect them when they are finally able to step into the voting booth.

Two weeks ago, I listened with awe to Parkland student Emma Gonzalez sum up her advice to adults: “It should not be easier to purchase a gun than it is to obtain a driver’s license, and military-grade weapons should not be accessible in civilian settings. You don’t drive a NASCAR on the street, no matter how fun it might be, just like you don’t need an AR-15 to protect yourself when walking home at night. No one does.”

Ten days ago, I watched thousands of teens chanting “Enough is enough” as they marched through the Capitol in Washington, D.C.

And last Thursday I was at the State House watching students take a stand for sensible gun legislation. I listened to 17-year-old Camden student Pearl Benjamin remind the crowd that unarmed civilians stop violent crimes at a rate of 13 percent while the rate is only 3 percent for those who are armed. And, I listened to University of Southern Maine student and Marine Corps vet Omar Andrews tell the crowd that it took two months of training before he was allowed to fire an automatic weapon.

“I don’t think it should be the job of children to teach adults the difference between right and wrong,” Benjamin declared.


Most of us don’t either, Pearl, but clearly we need you all to show us the error of our ways.

The worldwide #MeToo movement also gives me hope. In this country it has brought down businessmen and politicians who sexually assaulted and harassed women, and spawned outrage from women across the political spectrum. The result, according to EMILY’s list, is an increase in progressive women running for office in the past two years from 9,000 to 30,000.

Many of us had hoped that the detailed description of sexual harassment millions of us were experiencing would be enough to bring down the nomination of Clarence Thomas. Sadly, there were too many men of both parties who bet they could ignore without consequence what they knew was true.

It’s taken 26 years for Anita Hill’s courage to create the change we had hoped to see, but I’ve come to realize that life is not a destination but a journey. What brings me hope now is that the winds of change may finally at our back.

Karen Heck is a resident and former mayor of Waterville.

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