Radio Address: If we are going protect Maine children, we need a functioning child protection system.

Posted: August 09, 2018 | Senator Gratwick, Weekly Radio Address

All Maine children deserve to grow up in a safe and nurturing environment, free of violence. The tragic deaths of Kendall Chick and Marissa Kennedy within the past year are both heartbreaking and horrifying. They are completely unacceptable. Child abuse and neglect occur all too often and we must do better.

Hello, this is Senator Geoff Gratwick of Bangor. Thank you for tuning in.

As a state, one of our top responsibilities is looking out for the well-being of Maine people, especially our more vulnerable citizens, our children. With the recent deaths of Kendall and Marissa, it’s clear that our system to protect Maine kids isn’t working. It’s broken.

One of the ways I work for you as a senator is to serve on the Government Oversight Committee. Our Committee is charged with evaluating the effectiveness of state programs – are they working as designed? Earlier this year, we directed the Legislature’s independent, nonpartisan, watchdog agency to launch an investigation into what brought about the deaths of these kids and see what we can do to make sure it never happens again.

It is essential that we examine every aspect of our child protective system. We need to find out about how our frontline workers are doing, but, more importantly, we need to know about how those in the Executive Branch who are in charge, the bosses, decide on policy and priorities. Our investigation has unearthed some unsettling information. The Committee identified eleven potential areas for concern including inadequate staffing, poor morale, untrained leaders and problems with computer systems.  In the cases of Kendall and Marissa, there were major failures on the part of DHHS, wasted opportunities and missed red flags.

If we are going protect Maine children, we need a functioning child protection system, one that identifies all possible cases of abuse and neglect – and then takes the appropriate steps to ensure that child’s safety.

Reports of child abuse and neglect are increasing. A recent story in the Portland Press Herald revealed that there has been a 31 percent increase in child abuse and neglect cases in the past eight years – this is horrifying. Even worse, the number of physical abuse cases doubled over that same time. We must insist that the Office of Child and Family Services has adequate funding, staffing, and resources to keep Maine children safe.

DHHS Commissioner Ricker Hamilton agreed to add 75 more caseworkers to his agency. We must hold him to his word.  The Governor stated he is going to introduce child welfare legislation next week. I look forward to seeing his proposals; we must hold him to his word.  

I am committed to working with my colleagues in the Legislature to create a system that works for Maine children and families. This means legislation that repairs the gaping holes in our system, provides more resources, supports the dedicated staffers working on the frontlines, and invests in prevention programs that have been proven to work.

Solving this child welfare crisis must be our highest priority. We lawmakers must put aside our differences and do what’s best for the most vulnerable kids in our state.

This is Senator Geoff Gratwick, thank you for listening.