Children’s advocacy groups are sounding the alarm about the mental health challenges of Maine’s kids.
The 2022 Kids Count Data Book, released last week, highlights how children are struggling with anxiety and depression at unprecedented levels, about one-in-nine nationally.
Helen Hemminger, research associate with Maine’s Children Alliance, said about one-in-six kids experienced these challenges in Maine.
“We know that the pandemic contributed to stress and isolation for almost all youth,” said Hemminger. “And children have the best chance of thriving when they can learn skills to manage anxiety and access quality mental health care without stigma.”
The report comes on the heels of a Department of Justice finding that Maine violated the Americans with Disabilities Act for not providing adequate community-based mental health services for children.
Hemminger said it’s all the more reason for the state to expand investments to identify kids who are struggling and improve access to services, especially in rural areas.
The Data Book report ranked Maine 12th among states for overall child well-being.
Hemminger said improvement is needed in the education domain, where Maine ranked 22nd. She explained that greater investments are needed given the learning disruptions that occurred during the pandemic.
“Evidence shows that young brains are running quite fast, and what they learn early on can influence the whole trajectory of their school and even into their adult careers,” said Hemminger. “So it’s really important to put some attention into helping kids perform as best they can.”
Meanwhile, Leslie Boissiere — vice president for external affairs with the Casey Foundation — said data over the past decade reveals encouraging trends in child well-being nationally.
“Children today have better access to early education,” said Boissiere. “Children have better access or more access to health insurance. And there’s a tremendous sense of optimism among young people in terms of their ability and their desire to make this country better than it already is.”
Boissiere said policymakers should seize on that optimism and enact policies so that all children and young people can thrive.
When I’m not feeling angry, I’m sad. When I’m not feeling sad, I’m angry.
The sadness is because of the loss of young, innocent lives. It’s so hard to watch the news and see the faces of the children in Uvalde, Texas or parade goers in Chicago. It makes me so sad to know that there are people from California to New Hampshire who have been shot because…well who knows why? It makes me sad to know that people have been shot in large numbers because they were Black or gay or Jewish or just enjoying a music festival. Maybe even just driving down the road. I see our society closing its eyes to all this because its just too much to take.
And I’m angry. I’m angry at a nation that has decided to let this happen. We alone of the developed nations of the world kill ourselves like this. We have decided we are okay with it.
We let people become desperate. We allow many of our people to live in poverty. Poverty creates desperation and desperate people can become violent. We allow our people to survive with inadequate housing, or none at all. We allow people to build mansions, and let other people sleep in doorways. We let one in every eight people try to get by without enough food. Often we restrict people’s freedom and let inequality reign, despite what we say in the Pledge of Allegiance.
Poverty, lack of housing, prejudice, hunger—all these things create desperation. Desperation creates crime and violence.
We have then decided, as a nation, to make sure those desperate people have access to plenty of powerful weapons. A troubled young man can walk into a store on the day after he turns 18. He can buy two powerful rifles and plenty of ammunition. He can use them to take 21 lives, 19 of them beautiful little children. So, yes, I’m angry! And so very sad.
I am sad because it doesn’t have to be this way. I have been working with the Maine People’s Alliance for about two years and have learned that there are many solutions to the problems of the people, but that we have to twist arms and march and protest to get our leaders to take the actions we need.
Not all of them, of course. There are many good legislators who are doing their best to improve the lives of Mainers. I do not want this letter to be seen as implying that the problem is poor people. It’s poverty itself that troubles us.
It doesn’t have to be this way. We don’t have to be always dealing with sadness and anger. We can deal with poverty. We can make sure people in Maine have enough food and adequate health care. And we certainly can, we certainly must, change our laws to make it harder for desperate people to get their hands on powerful weapons.
Stephen Carnahan is a retired pastor who has been living in Maine for 24 years and has worked in congregations of the United Church of Christ for 35 years. Prior to that, Stephen worked as a high school teacher on Long Island, NY. He currently lives in Auburn on Taylor Pond and has two grown children, one of whom lives in Maine and the other travels all over. Stephen volunteers with the Maine People’s Alliance and can also be frequently found at Sea Dogs games in Portland.
People mourn in the wake of the Texas elementary school shooting. | William Luther/AP
WASHINGTON—After the latest gun massacre in a school, this time at Robb Elementary in Uvalde, Texas, teachers unions, Democratic President Joe Biden and gun control groups are again demanding legislative crackdowns on guns.
“Why are we willing to live with this carnage?” an upset Biden, a longtime senatorial crusader for gun control, asked. “Why do we keep letting this happen? Where in God’s name is our backbone?”
The short answer to Biden’s second question: The still-powerful and notorious gun lobby, the National Rifle Association. That key component of the radical right is holding its convention this coming weekend in Houston. Planned speakers include Texas Republican Gov. Greg Abbott and Biden’s Republican Oval Office predecessor, Donald Trump.
The most-vehement statement about the Uvalde slaughter came from Teachers (AFT) President Randi Weingarten. The 18-year-old shooter, Salvador Ramos, bought guns just after his birthday and murdered 19 children and two teachers at Robb Elementary School before a police SWAT team killed him.
“Some things are clear: These are despicable acts of hatred designed to terrorize us all,” said Weingarten, a New York City civics teacher and crusader for much-stricter gun controls. “Buffalo and now Uvalde will join a long list of places that will never be the same. Our hearts are with all of them.
That list includes Parkland, Fla., where Nikolas Cruz, then 19, gunned down three AFT-member teachers and 14 students at the Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School, on Valentine’s Day, 2018, and Newtown, Conn., where another gunman murdered 20 students and six teachers years before.
Newtown’s tragedy gave rise to Everytown for Gun Safety, while the Parkland massacre produced the student-led March For Our Lives. A third shooting, of then-Rep. Gabby Giffords, D-Ariz., and several constituents during a meet-and-greet in her district, produced a third anti-gun group. All of those groups denounced the murders, mourned the victims and recommitted themselves to the gun control cause.
“Only in America do people go grocery shopping and get mowed down by a shooter with hate in his heart; only in this country are parents not assured their kids will be safe at school,” Weingarten added.
“Gun violence is a cancer, and it’s one that none of us should tolerate for one single moment longer. We have made a choice to let this continue, and we can make a choice to finally do something—do anything—to put a stop to this madness.”
AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler, an Electrical Worker, tweeted, in part: “Gun violence is horrific & preventable and meaningful action is needed now,” without being specific.
“This tragedy once again underscores the very real dangers of a culture in which gun violence has become too much the norm and is too often the first way to resolve an argument or a grievance,” National Education Association President Becky Pringle and Texas State Teachers Association President Ovidia Molina said in a joint statement.
“We pray for the victims and their families, and we once again demand state and federal policymakers take action to keep firearms out of the hands of people who shouldn’t have them, whether that requires enacting new laws or better enforcing our existing laws.”
“It is up to all of us to find solutions that stop the spread of white supremacist politics and ideology that has aided and abetted the violence and bloodshed that have ripped this nation apart. We stand ready to work in coalition and cooperation with others to continue the fight,” National Nurses United President Jean Ross, RN, said after grocery store carnage days before in Buffalo and before the Uvalde massacre. Her union’s RNs see gun violence victims daily.
The Democratic-run House passed several gun control measures earlier in this Congress, but they’re likely to founder in the evenly split Senate, given the roadblock of the filibuster. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky summed up his party’s attitude by a “thoughts and prayers” tweet with nary a word about gun control legislation.
Police were still investigating Ramos’s motives for the Uvalde massacre. Former close friends of Ramos told reporters that within the last year-plus Ramos had taken a dark turn towards violence in online postings. They also reported he injured himself, with a knife.
Besides the students and teachers he killed, Ramos wounded others at the school, after wounding his grandmother at her home beforehand. Those victims were flown to hospitals. Several were in serious condition.
Robb’s mass shooting was the second such massacre in fewer than two weeks, following one by an anti-Black gunman at the Buffalo grocery store killing ten people and wounding three.
Senate Democrats split between lamentations about the filibuster roadblock and supporting efforts by Majority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., to force votes on gun control.
“The breakdown of the political process has never been clearer. When we can’t even act to keep our own children safe,” an upset Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., said. “ Is it worth taking a vote? Even if you don’t have 10 Republicans? Is it worth taking a vote? That’s the part that’s so frustrating.”
Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., who has made gun control a crusade ever since Newtown, is still trying to talk ten of the Senate’s 50 Republicans into backing gun control legislation. But even he admitted to MSNBC that “what’s possible is much smaller than what we need to do to protect kids.”
The Republicans, especially Texans, are another matter. In a recent campaign tweet, Gov. Abbott said he was “EMBARRASSED: Texas #2 in nation for new gun purchases, behind CALIFORNIA. Let’s pick up the pace Texans.” The capital letters are his.
On party-line votes, the Republican-dominated Texas legislature spent much of its recent session enacting bills to remove gun controls in the Lone Star State. And Trump and Abbott will address the NRA convention in Houston. Pro-gun GOP Sen. Ted Cruz reiterated his stand after the Uvalde massacre, but withdrew from a speaking commitment to the NRA. He pleaded “a scheduling conflict.”
Still, the carnage in Texas and the contrasting partisan attitudes to it point out the thin margin gun control backers have in the Democratic-run House—and the complete Republican roadblock in the Senate. That in turn adds yet another issue, along with abortion and worker rights, as reasons to elect progressive candidates this fall.
One hopeful sign: Gun control backers won in Georgia’s Democratic primary on May 25. In an incumbent-versus-incumbent faceoff due to Republican gerrymandering, Democratic Rep, Lucy McBath, who first ran several years ago on a strong gun-control platform after her son was murdered, defeated fellow Democratic Rep. Carolyn Bordeaux, who is more “moderate” on the issue.
Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People’s World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but a holy terror when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.
The Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians, Passamaquoddy Tribe, Penobscot Nation, and Mi’kmaq Nation are recognized under federal law. But unlike the 570 other federally recognized tribes, these four tribes in Maine – collectively known as the Wabanaki nations – are unfairly excluded from the very laws and programs Congress creates to benefit Indigenous peoples. Contrary to the aims of these federal programs, the intentional exclusion of the Wabanaki tribes has resulted in increased injustice and economic harm to Indigenous people in Maine. A new bill sponsored by Representative Jared Golden would help restore fairness. HR 6707, the Advancing Equality for Wabanaki Nations Act, would ensure that tribes in Maine are included in future federal laws and programs intended to benefit all federally recognized tribes.
The exclusion of the Wabanaki tribes is a direct result of the restrictive language of the Maine Indian Claims Settlement Act (MICSA) and its corresponding Maine legislation, the Maine Implementing Act (MIA). When ratified by Congress through MICSA in 1980, MIA diminished the tribes’ sovereign claims and reduced their standing to that akin to municipalities. Even more harmful, MICSA contains unusual provisions that block most federal Indian law – past, present, and future – from applying to tribes in Maine if the federal law affects the application of Maine law. The Wabanaki are the only federally recognized tribes excluded in this way.
Since 1980, Wabanaki tribes as well as their surrounding rural communities have lost out on the benefits of more than 150 federal laws1 including the Violence Against Women Act, which allows tribes to prosecute non-Indian defendants for domestic violence crimes against tribal members within tribal territory; the Indian Health Care Improvement Act, which allows tribes to hire urgently-needed medical professionals licensed in another state; the Stafford Act, which allows tribes to directly seek disaster relief and emergency assistance, and the Clean AirAct and Clean Water Act, which authorize tribes to assume primary regulatory authority for administering federal environmental programs on tribal lands. In each of these cases, Maine weaponized MICSA’s restrictive language to wage lengthy and expensive legal battles to deny Wabanaki tribes both the funds and authority granted to all other recognized tribes.
A preliminary analysis suggests that exclusion from federal grant programs cost Wabanaki tribes an average of at least $1.69 million each year in lost funding. Those funds, targeted to support agriculture, infrastructure, education, transportation, justice systems, and food security can never be reclaimed. The state also used MICSA to repeatedly block tribal efforts to launch gaming enterprises while allowing non-tribal commercial operators to reap almost $147 million in gross revenue in 2021.2 Tribal gaming authorized through the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act is currently the largest generator of revenue in Indian Country. Nationwide in 2019, Indian gaming generated more than $34 billion in gross revenue.3
In 2019 the Maine legislature authorized a task force to review MIA and recommend consensus changes. The task force, which included among its members chiefs of each of the four Wabanaki tribes as well as legislators who voted to pass MIA back in 1980, submitted 22 consensus recommendations.4 Addressing the inability of the Wabanaki to access the benefits of federal legislation is among them. Most of the other recommendations are included in LD 1626, currently awaiting funding approval in the Maine legislature and the support of Governor Mills to become law. Addressing the inequity endured for generations by the Wabanaki requires bold action in both Augusta and Congress.
Rep. Golden’s Advancing Equality for Wabanaki Nations Act updates MICSA to allow the Wabanaki tribes to benefit from future laws enacted to benefit Indian tribes. The bill also allows the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) to apply to the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians and Mi’kmaq Nation in the same way that the law applies to the Penobscot Nation and Passamaquoddy Tribe. These changes represent an important step towards equalizing the federal treatment of Wabanaki tribes with that of tribes in the rest of the country. The Maine Center for Economic Policy joins the leaders of the four Wabanaki tribes as well as a coalition of more than 90 Maine organizations representing tens of thousands of Mainers to support this bill as well as LD 1626. Together we understand that improving tribal-state relations, reducing costly legal battles, and providing tools for prosperity benefit all who live in Maine.
Photo: Lewiston resident Rose Walker, who works as an Ed Tech, has struggled to find and afford childcare for her own children throughout the pandemic. | courtesy of Rose Walker
A new report finds the pandemic disproportionately impacted women, but that gaps in data limit Maine’s ability to help those in need.
Women are more likely than men to be caregivers in their families —whether for their children, family members with disabilities or the elderly — and they’re also more likely to be employed in the care economy.
Anne Gass is an independent historian and the report chair for Maine’s Permanent Commission on the Status of Women, which released the report. She said there are barriers to adequate data collection, such as privacy concerns and lack of uniformity in the way data is collected.
“How many of the women are women of color?” asked Gass. “How many of them are refugees? How many of them had children who have disabilities, or are women with disabilities themselves? What we find is that, it’s just really difficult sometimes to parse that data out and find that information out.”
The report says better data is needed regarding women in the care industry and those who provide unpaid care to their families.
It also stresses the need for information on how many women are enrolled in social-service or public-assistance programs, and how eligibility and demand for programs lines up with enrollment.
Gass noted that many assistance programs are siloed, meaning they don’t share any data with each other.
She said when Mainers apply for assistance programs, they have to share personal information with intake workers they’ve never met — and sometimes having to do that over and over again keeps folks away from these benefits.
“We do need to make sure that they’re eligible, and that involves asking some questions,” said Gass. “But is there a way to do it so that it doesn’t just re-traumatize these women with as they’re going about trying to find help for themselves and their families?”
The report notes 141 child-care centers closed in Maine during the pandemic, and many more closed temporarily. Gass said two years since the start of the pandemic, child-care costs and availability is still hampering many women’s ability to return to work.