Friday, November 14, 2008

Best Investment for Maine’s Future May Lie in Childhood

By York County Sheriff Maurice Ouellette, Ogunquit Chief of Police Patricia Arnaudin, Kennebunkport Chief of Police Joe Bruni, Kennebunk Chief of Police Robert MacKenzie, Saco Chief of Police Brad Paul, and Wells Chief of Police Jo-Ann Putnam; all members of Fight Crime: Invest In Kids.
As the state of Maine and our nation elect our future leaders, it is important that we communicate to them why greater investments in quality early child care and education must be a priority. By providing children with solid social and educational foundations, they have a far better chance of graduating and staying away from a life of crime, making our communities safer for everyone.
During a recent York county-wide community conversation, we sat down with area business leaders, educators, legislators, providers and community leaders to work toward public policy changes needed to focus targeted resources to support Maine’s youngest citizens – our future workforce and leaders.
As federal, state and local budgets get tighter, it is important that we prioritize the investments that will yield the highest return. Invest money in quality programs to give children a better start in life, and we will see a tremendous return on that investment in the future. In fact, it is in the first three years of a child’s life that they develop the foundations for all their future physical, cognitive, emotional, and social developmental needs.
If we wait until our youngsters become teens to intervene, the results are much more expensive and not nearly as effective.
As law enforcement leaders, we have watched as too many young people are sent away to juvenile facilities.
Consider this alarming statistic: in the next hour, across America, law enforcement officers will arrest approximately 250 teens. That translates to more than 2 million teens per year.
While Maine does not experience the same rate of serious crimes as most other states, in 2006 there were still 78 young men and 16 young women in our state sent to state juvenile facilities following sentencing because of either the repeated or serious nature of the crimes they committed.
Here’s another shocking fact: preventing one child from adopting a life of crime saves $1.7 million in jail, court and other law enforcement costs.
When we consider the loss of human capital as well as the millions of dollars spent on juvenile detention and incarceration in Maine, it is more important than ever that we begin to invest wisely in our children.
Maine’s law enforcement community knows that one of the best investments the state can make is in high quality early education programs like Head Start, Early Head Start, Pre-Kindergarten and quality child care.
A long-term study at the Perry Preschool* found great success for its participants in curbing future crime. By the time at-risk kids who were kept out of the program turned 27 years old, they were five times more likely to have become chronic lawbreakers than similar kids who participated in the program.
In addition, a recent national survey found that adults who attended Head Start as children were nearly 10 percent less likely to be arrested or charged with a crime than their siblings who did not attend Head Start.
By starting early, we set our children on a path to a brighter future. The right tools at an early age make all the difference. Maine’s wisest investment in our future generation and crime reduction is investing when we can have the greatest impact – in the first years of a child’s life.
*High/Scope Education Research Foundation’s Perry Preschool Project is a longitudinal preschool-effectiveness study now in its third decade. It reviews the study’s cumulative findings and most recent conclusions, and considers why some early childhood programs have long-term effects. It also examines the generalizability of this study’s findings to other children living in poverty and to other high-quality, active learning preschool programs. The program is defined as a high-quality, active learning program for 3- and 4-year olds. High/Scope’s Home Page is
Caption: Today’s children are our future leaders and workforce, and therefore perhaps the best investment for Maine. (Metro Creative photo)