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Giving Strider Wolf a start

Strider Wolf inspected the remaining belongings in his old bedroom as his grandparents prepared to leave their Oxford, Maine, home in May.jessica rinaldi/globe staff/Globe Staff

STRIDER WOLF was small and fragile when his grandparents took him in, with deep physical and emotional wounds from a near-fatal beating at the hands of his mother's boyfriend. And his grandparents, Larry and Lanette Grant, scuffled close to the edge themselves, resorting to life in a cramped camper set up in the Maine woods or a Walmart parking lot. As the Globe's Sarah Schweitzer documented, the Grants doled out love in gruff doses – but it was love, nonetheless. Slowly, remarkably, Strider began to thrive in their care.

Strider and his brother Gallagher waited in the back of the car as their grandparents loaded their belongings into their rented truck.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe staff

Moving from place to place, the Grants were part of a population that has largely been left behind as New England's economy gathered steam again after the 2008 recession. A recent report by the Maine Development Foundation shows that Maine is still struggling: The state's economy declined by roughly 0.5 percent from 2008 to 2013, while New England grew by about 3.3 percent and the nation by approximately 5.4 percent. The Pine Tree State also trails its neighbors — and much of the United States — in per capita personal income: In 2014, it amounted to $42,100, only 31st in the nation.

The Grants were, in many ways, typical of the hard-to-reach rural poor, patching together temporary jobs, moving frequently, facing eviction. All of that changed last August, however, when a critical piece of the puzzle fell into place and the family moved into a rental house in Lisbon, an old mill town in Androscoggin County. Rent for the battered former church rectory was $800, but there was also plenty of room for Strider and his brother Gallagher, and green space to play outside. As Lanette Grant told Schweitzer, "It's a home."


It's also just a start. Strider, his brother, and his grandparents will continue to need longer-term help as they cope with a quieter, more destructive force that threads through their lives: trauma and post-traumatic stress, the sour outcomes of grinding poverty and spasms of violence. Although the memories can weigh them down at times, the family's network of caregivers and therapists deserve praise for their innovative approach, designed to dig out the roots of this generational trauma.


Known as child-parent psychotherapy, the treatment is designed to help kids, certainly. But it also helps caregivers understand traumatic events in their own lives, and cope with the memories that pop up as they contend with family stress. Founded some 20 years ago by Alicia Lieberman, now a professor at the University of California at San Francisco, this form of therapy holds real promise for breaking free from a damaging past. Past trauma can cause a flood of stress hormones that affect brain structure, Lieberman notes. “We start by meeting alone with parents and grandparents to find out what happened to the child – and what happened to them in the past,” she said. “And we know that extreme poverty by itself can cause tremendous stress.” Counselors working with Strider and his grandparents wisely used this approach to treat the entire family.

Coupling psychotherapy with the delivery of social services may not be easy, but it deserves further study — and funding — by Maine policy makers and legislators. So far, Democrats in Augusta have been able to stave off deep budget cuts that threaten outpatient behavioral health services — cuts that could, in fact, worsen the shortage of psychiatrists in the state. Dr. Jeffrey Barkin, president of the Maine Association of Psychiatric Physicians, has rightly called on legislators to continue to hold the line. "With changes in reimbursement rates and a perceived hassle factor, the net effect is decreased access to psychiatric care," Barkin said. "Unfortunately, pathologies don't go away, they show up elsewhere — particularly in the criminal justice system." A statewide rate-setting study could help bring order to the process.

On a broader front, the social safety net for Maine families has come under repeated attack — to the point where 21 percent of children under age 5 live in poverty, up 5 percentage points from 2001, according to the Maine Kids Count report issued by the Maine Children's Alliance. Governor Paul LePage's "welfare reforms" have changed eligibility criteria for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families — a program that serves primarily single moms with kids — and now the number of kids receiving cash assistance has been cut by more than half. Maine has also dropped to dead last in the nation in terms of processing applications for food stamps.


State Representative Drew Gattine, the Democratic chair of the House Committee on Health and Human Services, says that he hopes that policy makers can find a way to kick-start Maine's economy in 2016, while providing "a viable safety net so people don't become homeless and don't starve. The impact on kids is tremendous."

Those who would roll back services that are an essential part of lifting children out of poverty would do well to remember Strider Wolf. For him, and for many others, politics should not disrupt a path to a better life.