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Report: When It Comes To Youth Risk Factors, Androscoggin County Is A 'Mini-Maine'

Kenneth C. Zirkel
Wikimedia Commons
Great Falls in Lewiston in 2017.

A new report from the Cutler Institute at the University of Southern Maine's Muskie School of Public Service is taking a closer look at how school suspension rates, youth homelessness and involvement in the criminal justice and child welfare systems affect kids in their communities.

It’s part of the institute’s mission of helping policymakers improve outcomes for young people in Maine.

The report, “From Pipelines to Place-Based Strategies for Maine’s Older Youth,” analyzes public data by county.

Mara Sanchez is one of the authors on the report. She told All Things Considered host Nora Flaherty that Androscoggin County emerged as a microcosm for the rest of Maine.

This interview has been edited for clarity.

Sanchez: No matter how we sliced it, when we looked at the historical data and we looked at the most recent data, it really did seem like Androscoggin County was a microcosm of Maine. We kept calling it the mini-Maine. So many of the obstacles that Maine is facing in general were showing up in Androscoggin County, which is hard for that county but also exciting, because that means that a lot of the resilience that we could see for counties in facing those obstacles, we could find in Androscoggin County.

Lots of counties had their own highlights and lowlights. For example, in Cumberland County, I was surprised at the low report rates to DHHS, to Child Protective Services. Another county that surprised me was Kennebec County, which had the highest homelessness rate for the state of Maine. I thought that would be Cumberland. It’s funny how as researchers, we have our biases, but Kennebec actually had the highest rate. It was 1.05% compared to .72%, which is the state average. That sounds like a really low number, I know, but when you’re talking about homelessness, you’re talking about children being homeless. So the difference in percentage could be 10, 20, 50 kids.

Oxford County had the lowest rate of referrals. Actually, a number of counties had pretty low rates of referrals to the youth justice system, which was really exciting to me to think about how these counties are protecting their young people from justice system involvement. Lincoln County had the lowest suspension rate. It just makes you think, ‘Hey, what’s happening in Lincoln County? How can that perhaps be a source of information for other counties who are struggling maybe with their suspension rates? Or what could we be doing differently to prevent this high educational push out?’

Flaherty: So if Androscoggin County is kind of a mini-Maine, what indicators were you struck by that made you feel that way? And also what were the positives?

You know, these indicators that we chose to represent what our environments are looking like, and whether or not there’s adversity in those environments. The Androscoggin environment seemed like there was a lot of adversity that young people were facing. And it was showing up by young people showing up in systems. And so for us, it’s a microcosm of when young people face adversity, and they can either get into trouble with the law or they can get sucked into the child welfare system, or they are homeless or they need extra services. But again, Androscoggin, and there’s a lot of young people who are coming out of that county and succeeding. And so what is happening to protect young people there and what more could be done not only there vut across the state of Maine, where we could learn the lessons from that county and apply it to other counties that might be finding similar issues.

When we talked earlier, you mentioned the suspension rate in Androscoggin County. Why is suspension such a significant thing?

There’s just there’s a lot of research that connects educational disengagement with poor life outcomes. When I’ve spoken to people who are at Long Creek, or had involvement in the criminal justice system, which is something that nobody wants, 100% say they’ve been suspended. There’s always that connection. So for me, this is one of the main pipelines that we can do something to disrupt.

One thing that’s in the report that kind of struck me was that it says that, you know, adverse events that happened to people also happen to communities. I thought that was an interesting way to look at this data.

Yeah, the concept of adverse childhood experiences is one that many people are familiar with. I was really delighted to discover the idea of adverse community environments being another ace that we should be thinking of, and that our communities can be adverse environments for young people. But many young people are able to overcome and have resiliency, and many communities are able to protect their young people. And that just raises the question of why, and how can we replicate?

Originally published Oct. 29, 2019 at 4:20 p.m. ET.

Nora is originally from the Boston area but has lived in Chicago, Michigan, New York City and at the northern tip of New York state. Nora began working in public radio at Michigan Radio in Ann Arbor and has been an on-air host, a reporter, a digital editor, a producer, and, when they let her, played records.