Friday, April 6, 2018

Doing our due diligence to keep Maine children safe by Senator Bill Diamond

The persistence of child abuse and neglect in modern day society is unacceptable. When I first learned about the deaths of not one, but two young children from child abuse in recent months, I was outraged. Now, I want answers. Maine people and lawmakers deserve to know what happened, how these children slipped through the cracks and what steps can be taken to prevent more vulnerable, young children from suffering the same terrible fate. It is imperative that these tragedies never happen again.

Since the news broke about Kendall Chick and Marissa Kennedy, several governmental entities have launched investigations into the cases. In my opinion, these investigations are long overdue.

Following these alarming reports, the Legislature’s Government Oversight Committee, of which I serve on, met to discuss the appropriate course of action. Lawmakers all across the spectrum shared my outrage and we unanimously agreed to launch our own investigation through the independent Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability (OPEGA). Clearly, we need a more robust child protection system in place or a more rigorous set of laws. 

Over the next month, OPEGA will perform a swift, comprehensive investigation into the cases of Kendall Chick and Marissa Kennedy and report back to the Oversight Committee in early May. The scope of this investigation is extensive and will include a thorough review of Child Protection Services, the child abuse reporting process in Maine and the specific deaths of these girls. If everyone involved was doing their job, we need to know what went wrong. As an independent agency with an impressive record, OPEGA’s investigation has my full confidence in their capabilities get to the bottom of this and make strong recommendations to improve the system.

When OPEGA presents their full report next month, the state must be prepared to take swift and decisive action. Maine needs a strong, reliable child protection system to keep our kids safe. These deaths happened on our watch, and we have to live with that reality. However, we can and must create a better system going forward, to deter child abuse and prevent these types of deaths in the future. 

Serving on the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee as well, I fear what we don’t know. In this Committee, we see tragic ends all too often and not opportunities for intervention. I want to know what we can do to better intervene in child abuse situations and protect the life of a child before it is too late. The only reason we don't know the names of children that are being severely abused at this very minute is because they haven't died yet. The urgency to act cannot be overstated -lives are at stake.

Child abuse has significant short-term and long-term consequences aside from death. Children who experience maltreatment face substantial hurdles in regards to education, health and their future. In Maine, reports of suspected child abuse rose by 31 percent from 2008 to 2016. In the same time period, confirmed cases of physical abuse of children increased by 52 percent. The situation seems to be escalating and we need to do something about it. It is our moral obligation to ensure more cases of flagrant child abuse aren’t going unnoticed.

The deaths of Marissa Kennedy and Kendall Chick have shaken the state, and rightfully so. Too many children are exposed to violence and abuse, which not only disrupts their childhood but has damaging consequences later. The sooner we can intervene the better. I hope this tragedy serves as a startling wake-up call; we owe it to Maine children to do a better job safeguarding their lives.

As always, I am ready and willing to listen to my constituents. Please feel free to contact me at or (207) 287-1515, if you have questions or comments.

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