Maine KIDS COUNT Data Book ReleasedFebruary 28, 2008 - TRCAUGUSTA Governor Baldacci joined the Maine Childrens Alliance and stakeholders today at the public release of the 14th annual Maine KIDS COUNT Data Book. The information in the data book is a marker of how Maine succeeds in caring for its youngest citizens.The Governor noted the report gives his Administration a good measure of many aspects of childrens well-being across the state. KIDS COUNT has become a valuable tool for myself and other policymakers interested in providing a safe, stable environment for the children of our state, said Governor Baldacci. In the 14th annual report being released today, we find that we have made progress, but face real challenges in helping children and families realize opportunity here in Maine.The 2008 KIDS COUNT report shows that Maine has achieved progress in a number of areas, including reducing risk behaviors among youth. Notably, use of tobacco, marijuana and alcohol is down. Youth smoking decreased from 39 percent usage in 1997 to 14 percent in 2007. Teen suicides are down and the rate of disconnection among youth also decreased.Maine remains consistently better at providing health services for its youngest citizens. The rate of health insurance for children in Maine remains higher than the national average for all children and for those in low-income families. Babies born in Maine are also more likely to be born full-term, and the rate of infant mortality remains lower in Maine than it does nationally.At the State level, the Governor has been working with the Legislature to support Maine families and children.Since Ive been Governor, weve launched the Dirigo Health program, and the State has contributed greatly increased dollars to support Maines public school system, said Governor Baldacci. My Administration has supported prevention and early intervention, which we know reaps rewards in helping families succeed. We recently held a Governors Economic Summit that focused on investing in our youngest citizens and the need for private-public partnerships that enhance opportunities for Maines children. We also created the Division of Early Childhood within the Office of Child and Family Services to bring an enhanced focus on Maines infants and toddlers. And Maine has led the nation in promoting access to the Food Stamp program so that more of our children and families can be food secure and ready to succeed.The Governor credited the work of Maines First Lady Karen Baldacci, who has led the Childrens Cabinet since 2003. She has greatly helped me and the State build collaborations so that families are given the tools they need to realize their dreams, said the Governor.The KIDS COUNT report noted a number of areas for improvement. Of greatest concern to the Governor in this years report is the increase in the rate of children in Maine living in poverty. Across the nation a growing number of children are living in poverty. This is true in Maine as it is in many other states.We are committed to working to ensure all our children succeed, said the Governor. Even as our State works through tough economic times, we are committed to maintaining the vital safety net for children and families. We need the federal government to be a partner with us.Federal aid for the critical safety net for Maine families has been cut almost every year. Maine has seen decreases in federal funding to the Food Stamp program for nutrition, the Head Start program for early childhood learning, and the Child Care allowances working parents rely on to support their families. Recently, the Governor has expressed deep concern regarding President Bushs additional cuts to Medicaid. Progress Maine has made in covering children under the State Childrens Health Insurance Program, or SCHIP, is also threatened by underfunding from the federal government.Despite the challenges of the State budget, we will do everything we can to maintain our support for vital programs, said Governor Baldacci. We know that this year will be a trying one for many families, and even more difficult for many of their kids, but we are committed to working together to ensure that our future our children have the support they need to thrive. We know their success is Maines success.For more information on the 2008 KIDS COUNT Data Book, please visithttp://www.mekids.org/am/publish/cat_index_2.shtmlNOTE - This article reflects the views of the author and not necessarily those of the TRC Alliance Team.