There’s no question about it - Maine’s child protection system is badly broken but instead of placing blame, we must focus on fixing it immediately. The health, well-being and lives of Maine children are at stake.
Since the news first broke about the tragic deaths of Kendall Chick and Marissa Kennedy, the Legislature’s independent watchdog agency, the Department of Health and Human Services and Maine's Child Death & Serious Injury Review Panel have launched investigations into what happened and what we can do to make sure it never happens again. While I cannot speak for the other two investigations, what we found in the Legislature’s investigation is deeply concerning.
According to the Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability, Maine’s child protection system failed on several occasions and suffers from inadequate staffing, a flawed intake system and multiple opportunities for cases to fall through the cracks. This is unacceptable. I worry that we will learn of more cases that have fallen through the cracks and be too late to remove a child from a dangerous situation.
Last month, DHHS Commissioner Ricker Hamilton appeared before the Legislature’s Government Oversight Committee, (known as the government Watch Dog committee) of which I serve, to provide information and answer our questions. I am encouraged that he has committed to adding 75 intake workers and am interested in additional proposals from the Department and the governor to repair the system.
However, since Commissioner Hamilton made this commitment to add more caseworkers, the governor is now saying that he won’t include adding these badly needed workers in his emergency bill in the next few weeks. He wants to wait and let the next governor deal with that issue. Hopefully we reach a compromise and provide some help now …before it’s too late.
I also worry about the lack of transparency and information coming from the Department. The reality is, if we are going to make the necessary changes to the system charged with keeping our kids safe, lawmakers need to make sure we have all the facts.
from the Portland Press Herald revealed that there has been a 31 percent increase in child abuse and neglect cases in the past eight years, with more than 1,000 cases handled by the Department in 2016. Even more concerning, the number of physical abuse cases doubled over that same time. What these numbers show is that the proposed staffing increases to the Department are long overdue. They also reveal that the state needs to do more to invest in child abuse prevention programs that have a proven track record of success.
It has also been very helpful and enlightening to hear from many of you, right here in our district, about your experiences with the Department and recommendations on what we must do to transform the system so it works effectively to protect Maine kids. A huge concern of mine has stemmed from what I have heard about the mandated reporting system. I worry that those trying to do what’s best for Maine kids and report a worrisome situation are not getting the proper confirmation that their report has been received.
It’s very clear that we have a problem in this state that is only getting worse. We need a child welfare system that is going to rise to the increased challenges and best meet the needs of our kids.
I also want to be confident that we are exploring every possible option to keep Maine kids safe so they can grow up to become healthy, productive adults.
The Legislature’s Government Oversight Committee is expected to meet this week to get an update into the investigation. I am also hopeful that we will get a proposal from the governor to strengthen the child welfare system. Republican, Democrat or Independent - we must all work together for the good of Maine children.
Again, I’m asking for your help in sharing any information you may have that could be helpful to me as we seek the truth and solutions. I urge anyone with information related to Maine’s child protective system to contact me at or (207) 287-1515. Feel free to remain anonymous if you prefer. If we are going to keep our kids safe, it’s going to take all of us working together to share information and to build a stronger, more effective child protection system.