AUGUSTA, Maine – For the second day, Senator Bill Diamond has put boot leather on the sidewalk, hoping it will bring change to a system he says is in dire need of it.
Diamond said the Maine Child Protection System DHHS, run by the Child and Family Services Office, has suffered from serious internal problems for years and is resisting efforts to make the necessary corrections. These shortcomings, he said, have hampered the agency’s ability to stop child abuse deaths, even in some cases where the OCFS was already involved with the child and his family.
“You have 143 child care deaths since 2007,” Diamond said. “Lots of homicides, lots of strangers.”
The most recent were three child deaths in June, all still under investigation. At least one was a child that DHHS was already involved with. These tragedies follow two high-profile cases in late 2017 and early 2018: the death of Kendall Chick and Marissa Kennedy.
Diamond, who has said he has been concerned about problems with the state system since Logan Marr’s death in 2001, took a personal interest in the Chick and Kennedy murders, studying the records, urging government watchdog agency OPEGA state to investigate and attend the trials of parents and guardian accused in the deaths of the girls. These three adults were convicted of murder.
Diamond has repeatedly called for reform to ensure DHHS intervenes earlier to get children out of dangerous homes. He said the need for this reform had not changed, despite repeated assurances from several DHHS leaders that the issues were resolved.
“I’m not at all relieved that they’re telling us they now have a system that’s better because it’s not. It’s getting worse, and they’ve been saying the same thing, all Commissioners, since 2001. . “
This week, Diamond led a march to draw attention to the issue, marching and occasionally straddling from Old Town to Brewer, the towns where two of the June deaths occurred, and to Stockton Spring, where two more. children died of abuse in 2018 and 2021..
The goal, he said, has been to generate more attention to the problem.
“What we’re hoping for is that because of the intensity we’re seeing, and the march is contributing to it, I think it will cause lawmakers to be more willing to listen this time around.”
In this year’s legislative session, Diamond attempted to pass a bill to remove the OCFS from the Department of Health and Human Services and make it an autonomous state agency, and therefore more open to the public. legislative review. His bill was passed by the state Senate but failed in the House and faced opposition from the Mills administration.
The Maine DHHS said it has made many changes to the child protection system, including adding 70 more staff since 2018 and improving training and supervision.
“We care deeply about the safety and well-being of children and strive to do everything possible to learn from the lessons of recent child deaths and improve our approach to child protection,” said the DHHS spokesperson Jackie Farwell in a written statement to NEWS CENTER Maine.
“The death of a child is a tragic loss – for that child’s future, their family, their community and our state. That’s why we are partnering with national experts from Casey Family Programs to assess ministry policies and practices aimed at supporting child and family safety as we continue our broader work to improve the child protection system. childhood, with the legislature and many other stakeholders.
The DHHS Office of Child and Family Services (OCFS) has embarked on a comprehensive system-wide assessment that has informed improvement efforts in recent years.
The DHHS also recently announced that it will receive additional annual federal funding for child protection programs under the Family First program.
Diamond said the Casey investigation into the OCFS is a good thing, but also said a lot more is needed. The legislature’s OPEGA inquiry, he said, will be important, and during the march, several other lawmakers from both sides indicated that they shared his concern about the issue.
Diamond said he would continue to push for major changes during the Legislative Assembly’s winter session, its final year.
“This is… my last chance after 20 years to hopefully make an impact to hopefully make this system work better than it does now.”