Senators Libby, Diamond, Gratwick respond to update on child protection investigation
AUGUSTA —On Thursday, the Maine Legislature’s Government Oversight Committee received an initial briefing from Legislature’s nonpartisan watchdog agency on their investigation into Maine’s child protection system. The Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability (OPEGA) found that in at least one case there were major failures on the part of the state’s Office of Child and Family Services (OCFS).
“We have a legal and moral duty to find out where the state failed to protect Kendall Chick and Marissa Kennedy from fatal harm, and take every appropriate step to make sure it never happens again,” said Sen. Nate Libby of Lewiston, who serves as Assistant Senate Democratic Leader and ranking member of Government Oversight committee. “From the initial briefing today, at the very least it is crystal clear that we need to reform the process for reporting and acting on cases of abuse, fill the vacant caseworker positions within the Office, and improve training and communication of staff across multiple agencies responsible for keeping our kids safe.”
“In the cases of both children, we know that reports were made to OFCS and, in at least one case, OCFS failed to follow policies and procedures designed to protect the integrity of the child welfare system, where poor job performance and inadequate supervision appear to have been factors contributing to one child’s death. That is unconscionable,” said Sen. Libby.
The investigation comes following the tragic deaths of two children, Kendall Chick and Marissa Kennedy, from alleged child abuse. The initial report covers the first phase or the “fact-finding” portion of the investigation. A more comprehensive report will be released later this year once OPEGA has completed their investigation.
“I want to know what we’re doing today to make changes and save the lives of more children,” said Sen. Bill Diamond, D-Windham. “Children were abused yesterday, are being abused today, and will be tomorrow. One area of real concern is that the mandated reporting system in this state is very weak from the training to protection of the reporter. I think this is a key part of what our investigation should include. If mandated reporters aren’t trained adequately, they may turn around and leave a child in danger because they simply don’t know better.”
OPEGA also identified eleven potential areas for concern or improvement in Maine’s child protection system. The top concerns related to the cases of Kendall Chick and Marissa Kennedy include:
- guidance and training for mandated reporters, including expectations for what constitutes “reason for suspicion” for those in various roles;
- timeliness and comprehensiveness of OCFS and ARP assessments of risk for a child or family and junctures at which a comprehensive re-assessment of risk could be or should be conducted;
- compliance with policies and procedures, and consistency and appropriateness of decisions made, by caseworkers and supervisors in OCFS Central Intake and District Offices;
- the extent to which OCFS and ARP monitor whether families are participating in voluntary services intended to reduce the risk of child abuse and neglect and take action when they are not;
- the extent to which mandated reporters, OCFS and ARP seek to verify, and can verify, information reported by a child’s parents;
- the effectiveness of the child protection system in identifying and responding to child abuse/neglect risks that are not considered to be an imminent physical safety risk, i.e. emotional maltreatment, neglect, truancy;
- and extent and manner of communication and information exchange among the various key entities that are part of the child protection system including schools, law enforcement, health care providers, counselors and therapists, community service providers; OCFS Intake, OCFS Field Offices and ARP providers.
“All Maine children deserve to grow up in a safe and nurturing environment, free of violence. And what happened here is both heartbreaking and completely unacceptable,” said Sen. Geoff Gratwick, D-Bangor. “I want to make sure we examine the entire picture, including the responsibility of both the Executive and Legislative Branch. It is imperative that OCFS has adequate funding, staffing and resources to keep Maine children safe.”
The Government Oversight Committee will hold a public hearing on Thursday, May 31 at 9:00 a.m. in room 220 of the Cross Office Building in Augusta. Members of the public are invited to attend and share information regarding Maine’s child protection system that is pertinent to this investigation.