As responsible and caring citizens, we have a profound responsibility to lookout for the safety and well-being of Maine kids, especially when it comes to reporting signs of abuse or neglect. However, those reports mean nothing if the proper infrastructure isn't in place to follow through on these reports and remove children from harmful situations. It doesn’t matter who’s at fault; a strained child protective system is bad for our kids and society as a whole. The alarming fact is - kids are being severely abused and the only reason we don't have names is because these abused kids haven't died yet.
Last week, the Legislature’s Government Oversight Committee (GOC) met again to receive an update on the investigation into the tragic deaths of Kendall Chick and Marissa Kennedy and to get answers to some of our most pressing questions. What I learned was very concerning. But what was most revealing was the lack of information and cooperation from the Department of Health and Human Services, which is extremely frustrating. The fact is this: the system currently being used to identify and protect abused kids is badly broken.
Much of our meeting involved taking a deep dive into the Child Protection Intake process, which I did find to be informative. In Maine, when a mandated reporter or a concerned citizen submits a report, there are three paths forward. If the report is found to not contain sufficient allegations of abuse or neglect in accordance with statute, the case is closed. If the report does contain credible allegations that are consistent with state law, then the report is referred to the Office of Child and Family Services (OCFS) for a child protective assessment. The Alternative Response Program (ARP) is an option used to assist OCFS for low-moderate cases. However, too many reported cases are never even given the initial investigation because these reports fall through some very large cracks.
Regardless of the process, reports and caseloads are up and we need to do something to make sure caseworkers have the tools, resources and support they need to manage their caseload and keep kids safe. Right now, caseloads are too high and staff is ill-equipped to meet the increase in calls to the hotline. Some people have reported being put on hold for over an hour while waiting to report cases of abuse.
One of the ongoing challenges in this investigation is obtaining the information. While it shouldn't be this difficult, there have been a number of unnecessary roadblocks, with the latest being the failure of the Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner to show up to the last GOC meeting per order of the governor. He has the answers to some very important questions that will help us fix the system and the governor needs to allow the Commissioner to work with us.
If we are going make sure this tragedy never happens again, we need to all work together to create a robust child protection system that best meets the needs of our children and our state. Innocent children who are being severely abused need to be rescued, not left to suffer at the hands of cruel and demented abusers. We can only fix this system if lawmakers (Democrats, Republicans and Independents), the governor and the Department all roll-up our sleeves and work together to make it happen. Time is of the essence and every day we sit around spinning our wheels is another day of horror and torture for these abused children.
Since the start of this investigation, I’ve received an extraordinary amount of information from professionals who report possible cases of child abuse and neglect. It's become frustratingly obvious that the Department has failed to follow up on too many cases. To me, this is more than a red flag; it's a scream pleading for help. And I want answers.
I urge anyone with information related to Maine’s child protective system to contact me at or (207) 287-1515. As we go forward with this investigation and fixing this broken system, it’s imperative that we have all the information necessary to do our job. I know there are people out there who have experiences with the Department and could be extremely helpful. After all, Maine children are counting on us.