RADIO ADDRESS: We need to do more to make sure children in harmful situations don’t fall through the cracks.
Hello, this is Senator Bill Diamond of Windham. And I have an important message for you.
If there is anything that we have learned over the past few months, it’s that Maine’s child protection system is badly broken. Instead of focusing our energy or anger or blame, we must use this new information brought to light by the investigation to fix the system immediately. The health, well-being and lives of Maine children are at stake.
This week, the governor released his widely-anticipated proposals to fix the system.
The first bill addresses Maine’s mandated reporting system. Mandated reporters are required by law to report suspected cases of child abuse and neglect to the Department of Health and Human Services. These reporters include health care professionals, educators and law enforcement officials – adults who in their professional capacities interact with children and have reason to suspect that a child is subject to possible neglect or abuse.
Under current law, the failure of a mandated reporter to report possible child abuse or neglect is considered a civil offense. This piece of legislation would criminalize this offense making it a class E crime. While I share the governor’s concerns regarding Maine’s mandated reporter system, I believe we must also do more to ensure that mandated reporters receive the necessary training to identify cases of abuse and how to report them. And, we’ve heard of many instances where mandated reporters have tried to report suspicious cases to the Department of Health and Human Services but were put on hold and couldn’t get to talk with anyone at the Department.
Two of the governor’s proposals seek to alter how the Department deals with records and access information. It seems the intent is to ensure the Department has access to all the necessary information to identify possible cases of child abuse and determine whether or not a child should remain in that home. I think it’s imperative that the caseworkers have all the appropriate information to do their job and I’m interested in hearing from both workers and law enforcement on these bills.
I have agreed to sponsor a bill on behalf of the governor to ensure that the Department does not prioritize family reunification over the best interests of a child. While I recognize that family reunification or kinship care – when a child lives with a relative – is often best for the child, these options should obviously not be pursued to the detriment of a child’s safety and well-being. As lawmakers, we must be judicious in crafting policy on this issue.
The governor’s final bill provides some much-needed resources to the Department to upgrade an out-of-date information system, increase foster care rates and create a new child welfare investigator position. Our foster care program, in particular, must be overhauled because it’s critical to the success of protecting children who must be removed from homes where they are being abused. Currently, too many of these children have no place to go and end up staying in motels supervised by their caseworkers – which makes no sense, but it’s the only alternative at the moment.
These bills will receive a public hearing on Monday, August 27 in the Health and Human Services Committee. I am looking forward to hearing from parents, teachers and law enforcement officials who have dealt with Maine’s child welfare system in the past, as well as, child welfare experts.
It’s important to note that these bills are just the start of rebuilding the child welfare system. We have heard from caseworkers and mandated reporters that we need to do more to make sure children in harmful situations don’t fall through the cracks.
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. Republican, Democrat or Independent – we must all work together for the good of Maine children…and we need to do it now!
Thank you. This has been Senator Bill Diamond – I appreciate you listening.