AUGUSTA, Maine — Maine will receive more than $30 million in federal funds over four years to expand home visitation programs for families of at-risk children and toddlers.

The money will help the Maine Department of Health and Human Services develop and implement a multiyear plan for quality home visitations by nurses or social services that have proven to be valuable.

Maine was one of only nine states to receive funds and the application was helped by legislation sponsored last spring by Rep. Seth Berry, D-Bowdoinham.

“Research shows home visitation to be one of the best means of improving outcomes for children from birth to [age] 3, when 85-90 percent of brain development occurs,” said Berry. “With this grant, Maine takes an enormous step toward helping our kids get the best possible start.”

Added Rep. Mark Eves, D-North Berwick: “All parents want to give their kids the best possible start in life. Quality home visitation makes sure they know how to do so.”

Berry’s bill received support from both Democrats and Republicans and was signed by Gov. Paul LePage in June.

New census figures released on Thursday revealed that roughly one in four Maine and U.S. children from birth to age 5 live below the poverty level, which is $18,300 for a family of three. Infants and toddlers are twice as likely to live in poverty as adults.

An additional $1 million per year was granted to Maine to sustain ongoing programs based on documented need, according to Berry.

Among those responsible for writing the successful grant application are DHHS Commissioner Mary Mayhew, Maine Families Coordinator Pam LaHaye and Sheryl Peavey, state administrator of Maine Families Home Visiting.