Outside body recommends broad improvements to Maine’s child welfare system

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The Maine Department of Health and Human Services on Thursday released a wide range of recommendations from an outside agency it hired to investigate the state’s child welfare system after five children died of Maine in June.

Casey Family Programs recommends that the state take seven steps to support improvements to the child protection system, including establishing joint protocols with law enforcement, hospitals and protection staff. children to clarify their roles in cases of suspected abuse or neglect and improving engagement between parents and the child protection system.

The report does not identify any specific system failures related to the fatalities and cautions against blaming individual errors. He cites the staff pressures associated with the pandemic, staff turnover, tight deadlines and a standby staffing system that sometimes leaves less experienced staff handling complex cases. State workers also sometimes struggle to get families to engage with them and accept supports, as the system is largely voluntary, according to the report.

In July 2021, the department asked Casey to participate in the investigation into four child deaths that had occurred in the previous month. Following the announcement, the state also asked Casey to examine a fifth death, which occurred on June 24 in Windham. The five children, all of whom were four years old or younger, died from accidents or serious injuries.

In three of these cases, a parent was charged with the death of the child. The deaths occurred on June 1 in Brewer, June 6 in the Old Town, June 17 in Temple, June 20 in Stockton Springs and June 24 in Windham.

The deaths have renewed scrutiny of Maine’s child welfare system, which for decades has been the subject of calls for reform, often following high-profile deaths – most recently after the death of Kendall Chick, 4 years old, late 2017 and 10 years old. old Marissa Kennedy in 2018.

“We remain committed to getting all we can out of these tragic deaths and taking action to help Maine’s children grow up safe, healthy and loved,” said the Commissioner of Health and Human Services, Jeanne Lambrew, in a press release. “The Casey Family Programs brought a wealth of experience and a national perspective to this in-depth review, and we are extensively evaluating their recommendations to identify immediate and long-term actions we can take to protect Maine’s children. “

Casey Family Programs said the Office of Children and Family Services should consider implementing seven recommendations, including supporting consistent practices and clear roles around family team meetings and exploring ways to support engagement with parents, as with parent mentoring programs.

The department will publicly release what action it takes in response to Casey’s recommendations next week, according to Jackie Farwell, a spokesperson for the department.

“The heartbreaking deaths of these children continue to impact their families, communities, our staff and our state as a whole,” Todd Landry, director of the DHHS Office of Child and Family Services, said in a statement. “Casey’s expert review will help us work with our partners across the child welfare system to keep children safe and support families in Maine now and into the future. “

The first of five child deaths occurred on June 1 in Brewer. Police have since charged Ronald Harding with manslaughter in the death of his 6-week-old son, who police say was shaken to death.

Five days later, a 3-year-old girl was found dead in the old town. Police arrested the mother, Hillary Gooding, and also charged her with manslaughter. The cause of the girl’s death was not disclosed.

And on June 17, a 4-year-old boy from the town of Franklin, Franklin County, died of what police believe was an accidental self-inflicted gunshot wound. No one has been charged in this case.

3-year-old Maddox Williams died on June 20 in Stockton Springs. Her mother, Jessica Williams, has been charged with murder and has pleaded not guilty.

Windham boy Sulaiman Muhiddin, 4, performed on June 24, but police did not give details of how he died or where he died.

This story will be updated.

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