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500% rise in single parenthood fueling family poverty in Maine

Single mother Adena Wilcox and her son, Michael, eat dinner at St. Anthony’s Soup Kitchen in Skowhegan.

Part 1: In one of the most in-depth series that the Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting has ever published, Senior Reporter Naomi Schalit discovers and calls attention to a dramatic change in the Maine family — a 500 percent increase in the proportion of children born to single parents in the last 43 years. Nearly half of all births in the state are now to mothers who are not married.

Because most of those single parents can’t afford to raise a child — or two or three children — they are destined to live in poverty. And when children are raised in that kind of poverty and deprivation, their brains are literally harmed, setting the stage for a lifetime of negative effects, according to the experts interviewed by Schalit.

At a time when poverty and welfare have become polarizing political issues in Maine, the very people who know the most about this problem don’t want to talk frankly about it for fear of backlash against the parents and children they are trying to help. It took nine months of digging into the problem — interviews with national experts, days spent with single mothers, time in the state prison with single fathers and repeated visits with teachers, social workers and public officials — for Schalit to bring forward this essential story.

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