May 26, 2022

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Lawmakers fee probe of Maine’s baby protective expert services

A legislative committee voted unanimously Wednesday to immediate the Legislature’s watchdog company to probe Maine’s little one protective procedure, in light-weight of various current deaths of kids.

And the state’s child welfare ombudsman criticized the Maine Business office of Kid and Household Solutions for failing to make advancements more than the previous various months in how it handles baby protecting instances.

Christine Alberi, the ombudsman, reported the place of work, section of the Section of Health and Human Products and services, has over-relied on “quantitative” measures, this kind of as how extended youngsters remain in point out custody, and not provided sufficient bodyweight to “qualitative” concerns, these as how effectively caseworkers evaluate a child’s protection in the residence. Alberi explained the shortcomings were being pointed out in her 2020 fiscal calendar year-conclude report, and no major enhancements have been built.

“The section has continued to struggle with exercise challenges and decision-building all over two important factors of baby welfare involvement: when generating the choice whether or not the child will be protected in the household during the initial investigation, and when building the conclusion whether or not the little one will be safe and sound in the dwelling at the time reunified with mom and dad,” Alberi explained. Maine now has about 2,200 young children in state custody, in accordance to state figures.

The Legislature’s Govt Oversight Committee is probing the state’s child welfare solutions, after the recent fatalities of 4 little ones, which include 3-12 months-previous Maddox Williams of Stockton Springs in June. Maddox’s mother, Jessica Trefethen, has been charged with murder in the boy’s demise. The company has been under scrutiny because the fatalities extra than three years in the past of 10-year-previous Marissa Kennedy and 4-calendar year-previous Kendall Chick. The mother and father or caretakers in individuals two unrelated conditions have been convicted of crimes relevant to their deaths and are now serving jail sentences.

The condition also has viewed three modern fatalities. Police have charged Ronald Harding of Brewer with killing his 6-week-aged son on June 1, and Hillary Gooding of Old Town faces a manslaughter charge in the demise of her 3-calendar year-outdated daughter five times later. And on June 17, a 4-year-aged boy from the Franklin County city of Franklin died from what law enforcement believe that was an accidental self-inflicted gunshot wound. No a single has been billed in link with that circumstance.

The point out has contracted with Casey Household Packages, a nationwide boy or girl welfare analysis group, to work with condition businesses to arrive up with improvements to functions.

But the Federal government Oversight Committee has independently assigned one more agency to appraise little one welfare expert services in conjunction with the evaluate remaining carried out by Casey Household Packages. The Office environment of Plan Evaluation and Government Accountability – the Legislature’s watchdog agency – will report to the committee on Aug. 11 with a proposal outlining the scope of what the agency will do.

Soon after the fatalities of Kennedy and Chick additional than three years in the past, OPEGA surveyed caseworkers and reviewed placements of kids removed from their homes. The assessment of little one placements is ongoing.

Oversight committee Chairman Sen. Nate Libby, D-Lewiston, had some sharp queries for Todd Landry, director of the Workplace of Youngster and Loved ones Products and services.

“What took place? What went wrong? How did these cases slip by means of the cracks?” Libby requested.

Landry explained boy or girl welfare is a elaborate program, and he welcomed the extra overview by OPEGA, even further meetings with Alberi’s place of work and scrutiny by Casey Relatives Courses.

“This is a phone to motion, and action is becoming taken without hold off,” Landry said. “It is our accountability as a point out and as a culture to do all we can to enable little ones expand up safe and sound and make sure they have the love and attention they need to have.”

He mentioned the COVID-19 pandemic has worsened psychological health and fitness and substance use condition difficulties in Maine and across the state, which has impacted family members and put little ones at possibility.

Landry reported he expects to get tips from Casey Loved ones Plans within 90 times.

Landry famous that there have been some advancements, including a drop in caseworker turnover, which has dropped from 22.95 p.c in 2018 to 15.65 p.c in 2020. After complaints in 2017 and 2018 of caseworkers staying confused, DHHS has bolstered staffing in youngster protective solutions under the Mills administration. The agency has included 69 positions, like caseworkers, supervisors and help personnel, bringing the overall workforce to 654 positions.

But Alberi said it is not only about how numerous caseworkers are on the task, but what they are doing, and how they evaluate up to business specifications for finest procedures.

The ombudsman’s office environment reviewed 43 instances from Oct. 1, 2020, to April 30, 2021, and discovered that 17, or 40 per cent, had considerable deficiencies.

“The department carries on to fall short to total reliable casework observe all through the times in instances wherever the dedication of baby protection is most consequential,” Alberi mentioned, giving examples of hypothetical instances and not referring to genuine investigations.

“Was the interview with the out-of-household mum or dad comprehensive? Were all of the law enforcement reviews attained just after the office learned that the mother’s boyfriend had a record of domestic violence? Did any individual knock on the neighbor’s doorway to see if they knew just about anything?”

Landry explained that enhancements in how caseworkers manage conditions is ongoing. He reported it also takes up to two decades for caseworkers to turn out to be absolutely proficient at their work.

State Sen. Bill Diamond, D-Windham, instructed the committee that issues with OCFS go again at the very least 20 yrs, and the agency is unwilling to make significant reforms. A invoice by Diamond that would have separated OCFS and other baby-centered companies from DHHS failed in the Legislature this year.

“I’ve watched OCFS move far too bit by bit and then stall and even regress over the past 20 many years,” Diamond claimed. “My frustrations centre on knowing total perfectly that underneath their present tactics there will be a lot more kid fatalities that could have been prevented.”

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