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Maine Government Moves To End Child Abuse Outreach Program

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Maine is ending a $2.2 million program, Community Partnerships for Protecting Children, that provided direct support to families at-risk for child abuse and neglect, the Portland Press Herald reports.

Maine Plans Shutdown Of Child Abuse Prevention Program

The program, according to the Bangor Daily News, facilitates social workers and other professionals who work directly with Maine children and families considered at-risk for abuse and neglect.

Under the name Community Partnerships for Protecting Children (CPPC), non-profit workers collaborate with churches, schools and law enforcement officials in communities where Child Protective Services fields the most reports of child abuse.

Together, this wide range of partners work to tackle broad issues within the community, as well as providing resources to individual families who are facing challenges of their own.

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Parent Partners & Community Hubs

Alongside these partnerships, state funding also goes to sustain “parent partners,” people who have experienced the child welfare system and can help counsel other families moving through it now. “The parent partners, they can meet with folks and say, ‘I understand what you’re going through because I’ve been there, and it will get better,” says Debra Dunlap, who manages the program for seven neighborhoods in southern Maine.

“Community hubs,” also funded from taxpayer revenue, create gathering places for families in at-risk neighborhoods to access resources and pick up food donated by members of the community.

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Decade-Old Program Drew On TANF Funds

Community Partnerships for Protecting Children started up over 10 years ago, first in Portland, then expanding to surrounding communities, and finally further north to Rockland and Bangor. Initial funds came from state taxpayers, but as the program expanded, Maine’s Department of Health and Human Services turned to money from federal grants.

The Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) grant allowed Maine’s legislature to experiment with programs to help disadvantaged kids, including CPPC. Now, funding for Community Partnerships for Protecting Children is set to end on September 30, 2018.

Child Mistreatment Councils Do The Same Thing, DHS Says

Two factors went into the program’s demise, says Emily Spencer, a spokesperson for Maine’s Department of Health and Human Services. The first problem, Spencer told reporters, was that an internal review of government programs had deemed the program “duplicative”; another taxpayer-funded program, also designed to spur abuse-related outreach for at-risk families, was doing the same thing.

“It is […] our duty to the Maine taxpayers to ensure that programs we fund are not duplicative of one another,” Spencer says, “their money needs to be spent in the most effective and efficient ways possible.” Apparently, Governor LePage’s administration believes that the federal dollars will be better spent funding Maine’s network of Child Abuse and Neglect Councils.

“Maine’s Councils serve the same families that the CPPCs were intended to serve,” Spencer says. Across the State, 13 non-profit Child Abuse and Neglect (CAN) Councils offer workshops, classes and in-home family visits, hoping to prevent abuse.

No, They Don’t, Advocates Counter

That’s not the same as “direct help,” according to Ken Kunin, the superintendent for schools in South Portland. Community Partnerships for Protecting Children doesn’t “duplicate” the services offered by CAN Councils, Kunin says, who called CPPC a “tremendous” program.

Even so, it’s important to note that Portland’s designated CAN Council partner is the Opportunity Alliance, a non-profit established over 50 years ago. The Opportunity Alliance also happens to run the CPPC program in South Portland, receiving an annual contract worth $800,000 for the work.

Federal Dollars Move Elsewhere In Maine

The second problem? The State’s Department of Health and Human Services has been using more and more of its federal TANF grant money on other programs, including programs for domestic violence resources, homeless shelters for youth and after-school programs that used to be funded with money from state taxpayers.

Why Isn’t Maine Spending Grant Money For At-Risk Kids?

But it’s also sitting on a lot of that money. Maine receives $78.1 million in TANF funds every year. The money comes whether or not Maine spends it and, as of 2016, the State’s DHS had around $155 million in unspent funds in the bank.

Across the country, federal dollars have come to replace welfare funding that state taxpayers once supplied. And most states, not a minority, use TANF funds primarily to cover their long-term fiscal obligations, rather than supporting programs for needy families.

In Maine, Governor Paul LePage has attempted to reduce the direct cash assistance provided to at-risk families, while retaining programs that help parents and their children develop work experience and life skills that can reduce the likelihood of their remaining in poverty. At the same time, Maine’s Department of Health and Human Services has amassed a considerable nest egg by saving, rather than spending, federal grants.

Does Community Outreach Reduce Child Abuse?

The real question, though, is whether or not Community Partnerships for Protecting Children worked and, perhaps even more important, whether or not its potential benefits can be rolled into Maine’s network of Child Abuse and Neglect Councils.

Emily Spencer, the DHS spokesperson, is dubious about CPPC’s effect on child abuse. In an email to the Portland Press Herald, Spencer said the CPPC model wasn’t “evidence-based.” “When originally established,” Spencer wrote, “DHHS believed that the CPPCs were an evidence-based program. Upon further research as we considered renewing and expanding, it has been determined that they are not evidence-based.”

Child Abuse Statistics In Maine

That’s definitely true. Gauging the program’s effects is nearly impossible. If anything, the data we have suggests that the Community Partnerships for Protecting Children programs might not do much of anything in the aggregate.

Maine’s numbers on substantiated child abuse and neglect cases show a small, but probably not statistically-significant drop, between 2008 and 2016, from 2,521 cases to 2,268. But most of Maine’s CPPC programs only got off the ground after 2015 and, moreover, child abuse cases are down significantly across the rest of the country, too.

Debra Dunlap readily admits that there’s insufficient evidence to prove that CPPC is doing good, but she says Community Partnerships for Protecting Children is the best option running in Maine. There’s hope from the State government that many of CPPC’s services can be continued, or mirrored, by grassroots efforts, the goodwill of private individuals working together.

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