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Maine Is Best for Raising Children

July 27, 1999

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) _ Compiling data on factors ranging from immunization to juvenile crime, a national advocacy group concluded that Maine is the best state in which to rear a child.

Maine advanced from eighth place last year, when Iowa was No. 1 in the rankings compiled by the Children’s Rights Council.

Behind Maine were Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont and New Hampshire. Bringing up the rear, in descending order, were California, Arizona, Texas, New Mexico, Louisiana and Washington, D.C.

The council, based in Washington, was announcing the rankings today.

The report measured rates of abuse and neglect; the rate of immunizations under age 2; the dropout rate; children in poverty; the child death rate; the infant mortality rate; those not receiving natal care; total juvenile crime; the divorce rate; and the teen birth rate.

The states were ranked by calculating the average of all 10 factors for each. The report draws on data from public and private sources including the FBI, the Department of Health and Human Services, The Annie E. Casey Foundation and state law enforcement agencies.

An increase in the high school graduation rate and decreases in the child poverty and teen birth rates helped Maine take the top spot, said Maryellen Dougherty, legislative assistant at the council.

The top five slots shifted to New England in part because the council changed its calculation methods to focus more closely on the factors that directly affect children, she said.

Data on deaths from drugs and alcohol were dropped because not all affected children, and data on the ones that did were not available. Also, data on single-parent households, unwed births and teen births were found to overlap last year, so the teen birth rate was the only one of the three included this year, she said.

``We felt that that unfairly weighed one area of raising a child,″ she said.

Figures on the rates of immunization and prenatal care were included for the first time this year, she said.

Maine officials took pride in the No. 1 listing but acknowledged that there’s still room for improvement.

``It’s nice to be recognized. We’re going to pat ourselves on the back a little bit,″ said Dennis Bailey, spokesman for Gov. Angus King.

He said King has made child welfare a top priority with programs such as the Children’s Cabinet, formed in 1994 to let the heads of five state agencies collaborate on policies affecting parents and children.

But he also noted that some areas for improvement aren’t shown by the figures, such as those showing a low high-school dropout rate.

``What we don’t do well in is the number of graduates going on to college or technical school,″ he said.

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