May 26, 2022

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Lawmakers established aggressive timeline for newest assessment of boy or girl protecting expert services

The Legislature’s Federal government Oversight Committee voted Wednesday to set an intense timeline for its investigative arm to report again on a evaluate of the state’s boy or girl protecting program, which has come under hearth once all over again subsequent new substantial-profile deaths.

Lawmakers directed the Business of Program Evaluation and Authorities Accountability to start out a a few-aspect investigation into the Business of Child and Spouse and children Companies, and to established aside all other do the job if have to have be.

The initially portion, due Jan. 15, would look at broadly whether present-day oversight of the relatives expert services office is sufficient and helpful. The two other areas, which would evaluate how the condition is protecting boy or girl security in the course of original investigation and evaluation, and how it is guarding baby protection throughout reunification and permanency – when a kid is positioned back with a guardian or foster loved ones for superior just after currently being removed – would be because of later in the year.

Sen. Nate Libby, the committee co-chair, mentioned it is very important for OPEGA to expedite its investigation so lawmakers can look at drafting legislation for the duration of the next session.

“This job could get three several years if that’s what we want. I really do not consider that timeline is effective for us,” reported Libby, a Democrat from Lewiston.

Sen. Jeff Timberlake, R-Turner, agreed and explained he views an investigation of the family members companies business office as “the most important detail occurring in the condition ideal now.”

“I really do not care if OPEGA puts almost everything else on hold,” reported Timberlake, also the Senate’s Republican leader.

The OPEGA critique will come on the heels of one more overview underway by Casey Spouse and children Programs, a nationwide baby welfare study firm. State officials introduced very last thirty day period that the family members services place of work would agreement with Casey on a 90-working day assessment that will be completed in September or October.

The final decision to ask for help from Casey adopted 4 boy or girl deaths in June, a few of which resulted in prison fees against mothers and fathers. In at the very least just one of those situations, the demise of 3-yr-aged Maddox Williams in Stockton Springs, the family had prior speak to with kid protective solutions, court docket documents discovered.

Spouse and children expert services Director Todd Landry stated in an job interview Wednesday the company welcomes the assessment by OPEGA and will give its employees with anything at all it requirements to aid increase the protection of Maine’s kids.

“We understand the enthusiasm and motivation several folks have (close to this subject),” Landry reported. “We share that and we share with them the absolute perception that there are enhancements we have to keep on to make as a little one welfare company.”

Final month, Landry explained the new deaths served as a get in touch with to motion, but he also has stressed that numerous reforms have been ongoing since the fatalities of two other young children, Kendall Chick and Marisa Kennedy, in late 2017 and early 2018. Equally were being killed by moms and dads or caretakers immediately after caseworkers experienced been alerted to problems about their safety.

OPEGA also reviewed the instances of those people fatalities and then adopted up with a extensive survey of kid protecting caseworkers, but the most current critique is likely to be extra substantive.

Director Lucia Nixon instructed lawmakers Wednesday that OPEGA is “fully knowledgeable other get the job done is going on.”

“We do not want to be duplicative,” she claimed, introducing that the relatives products and services office environment has invited OPEGA to be part of the critique performed by Casey Loved ones Systems.

The scope of OPEGA’s evaluate backs up fears lifted in a latest report by the state’s Youngster Welfare Ombudsman, Christine Alberi, especially all around basic safety in the course of preliminary relatives assessments and yet again when a little one is returned to the spouse and children. Alberi elevated equivalent considerations in her 2019 report.

Very last thirty day period, two longtime associates of the board of directors for the ombudsman’s workplace – James “Allie” McCormack and Ally Keppel – resigned in protest mainly because they felt condition officers had been not heeding the ombudsman’s warnings.

“As time went by, reviews from the ombudsman to the board took on an eerie familiarity, and the ombudsman’s 2019 and 2020 reviews to the Maine Legislature ongoing to expose the exact systemic protection issues that led to these useless youngster fatalities,” the two wrote at the time. “Another legislative session has long gone by with out any substantial variations, and the newspaper articles or blog posts reporting numerous child deaths involving some degree of DHHS involvement have arrived as feared.”

In an interview, Keppel explained she grew discouraged with DHHS’ “continued resistance to the information that is presented to them.”

Landry and his employees have disagreed with some of the baby welfare ombudsman’s conclusions and have defended improvements that have been created. For occasion, the condition has employed and properly trained dozens of new caseworkers above the past couple of a long time and staff turnover is at its cheapest level in five a long time.

Rep. Michele Meyer, D-Eliot, who co-chairs the Overall health and Human Solutions Committee, acknowledged that the relatives products and services office environment is in the course of action of “rebuilding after a time period of dismantling,” referring to deep cuts to social products and services underneath previous Gov. Paul LePage.

“It’s also true and deeply saddening that present-day initiatives are developing as a end result of one more crisis,” she explained. “Clearly, there is vital perform still to be done.”

Some who spoke at Wednesday’s Government Oversight Committee assembly prompt lawmakers drive even additional in their overview.

Michael Petit, Maine’s wellness commissioner for significantly of the 1980s who afterwards launched a nonprofit termed Every single Youngster Matters, said the loved ones companies office should really carry out a “deep dive” of all young children in state treatment, especially those who are returned to their mom and dad after remaining taken off.

“I do imagine there is an urgency you could fulfill by likely into some of these households and revisiting what the circumstances have been, due to the fact they change, and the do the job has improved,” he claimed.

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