Last week I was stunned to read that the headline: “More than a quarter of Maine’s 2021 homicide victims were under age 4.”

I grew up in Pittsfield, Maine, in the 1980s, which was known for its many chicken farms and an egg processing plant touted as the best in in New England. This industry was celebrated each year at the end of July with the hosting of the Central Maine Egg Festival, designed to draw focus away from the up-state potato crop. It was preceded by a parade through Main Street, concluding in the park near a 10-foot frying pan, weighing in at 300 pounds. Townies could gorge themselves on the Early Bird breakfast, dominated by eggs, of course, a whopping 4,000 fried over the course of the morning, before hitting up the carnival rides.

One steaming summer day, perhaps when I was 6 or 7, I parked myself near the library, a point in the parade route where the decorated floats and people turned into the drive leading to the festival. The library had always been a safe space for me. As I sat there, I watched a scene play out across the street amidst the throngs of people. Like so many other children, perhaps to beg for a few quarters for the upcoming rides or snacks, a little blonde boy in ragged clothes ran up and held out his hand to a huge man wearing an undershirt and overalls. Beer in his hand, the man casually beat the boy in the face with a massive fist, knocking him to the ground. Crying, the little boy jumped up and ran away. The adults near this blatant exchange simply turned away, eyes downcast.

There was no outcry. No condemnation. It was as if it never happened.

The moment which cemented my desire to become an attorney for children, outside of my own upbringing, came at age 10 due to a horrific murder that occurred in Auburn, when a child was returned to her mother from foster care. While the mother sat high in the next room, oblivious, her boyfriend savagely beat 4-year-old Angela, then stuffed her in an oven, wedging the door shut with a chair, and turned it on as high as it would go.

I couldn’t imagine anything more horrifying. In my young mind, if the child had an attorney, I believed she would never have left foster care, and would have survived. “Hell Is For Children,” by Pat Benatar, became my anthem.

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When I was 16, I convinced the right people at the state university to accept me without a high school diploma and dropped out to attend college in order to speed up my career path. Following law school, I landed in New York City, where I have dedicated my career to children’s rights, advocacy and litigation.

More than 35 years after Angela’s death, what has changed? In fact, 143 fatalities have occurred since 2007. Even if the state takes action and brings children and youth into care, they end up as damaged by the system itself as they spend nights in offices, hotels, homeless shelters and institutions due to a lack of adequate foster homes, and receive little to no mental health treatment.

Decisions by government, or the lack thereof, has driven this surge.

Maine needs to take real action, which will require significant financial and people investment to facilitate and implement change. It is not as simple as adding a few dozen new caseworker positions or holding legislative hearings. The time for committees and recommendations is over.

Mainers, don’t continue to look away. Make an outcry. Express condemnation. Hold government accountable. Demand real change.

The lost lives of Angela and the other dead children, as well as the thousands who are in foster care, deserve no less.

Dawn J. Post is a former Mainer and expert in children’s rights, advocacy and litigation based in NYC.


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