AUGUSTA, Maine — Gov. Paul LePage has declared April to be Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention Month.

Though the governor was not present, law enforcement, public health officials and social service providers gathered Tuesday in the State House Hall of Flags to commemorate the proclamation and urge greater awareness of child abuse and neglect in Maine.

The gathering occurred as news broke that Bangor police had arrested a local man for allegedly assaulting his girlfriend’s 1-year-old child. Commissioner Mary Mayhew of the Department of Health and Human Services said her agency fields more than 23,000 reports of child abuse or neglect each year, leading to 8,800 findings that a child had been hurt or mistreated.

She touted efforts by the state and private partners to curb child abuse, including the hiring of 16 additional investigators at DHHS. Still, she said, “while our efforts are making a difference, there is a lot of work to be done.”

State and local police emphasized that the need to fight child abuse and neglect is not only a moral imperative, but a cost-saving initiative. Augusta Police Chief Robert Gregoire said that children who are abused often grow up to be criminals.

“Sharply reducing abuse and neglect in Maine will save tens of millions of dollars, and reduce suffering” by Maine families, he said.

Patrick Walsh, director of prevention services at the Waldoboro-based Broadreach Family and Community Services, said mandated-reporter training by his group and others like it have helped increase the reporting rate of child abuse and neglect.

“I’m wearing a button that says ‘Every child matters,’” he said. “If we live by that maxim, I think our future can be much brighter.”