Sen. Bill Diamond, D-Windham, testified on behalf of his bill to strengthen a law protecting vulnerable children from child abuse and neglect during a public hearing before the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee. The bill, ,"An Act To Amend the Child and Family Services and Child Protection Act," received a public hearing and initial work session on Monday.
The bill seeks to clarify the statute regarding the family reunification for children in the child welfare system, who have been temporarily removed from their homes. This subtle change in the language underscores that while family reunification is often best for the child, a child should not be reunified with their parents if it would be harmful to the child’s safety and well-being.
“If there is anything that we have learned over the past few months, it’s that Maine’s child protection system is badly broken,” said Sen. Diamond. “I want to make sure that the law is clear that children should not be placed back with their family if serious health and safety risks remain. The deaths of Kendall Chick and Marissa Kennedy have highlighted that pervasive gaps in our system exist and we must make sure our laws reflect what’s best for Maine children in the child welfare system so these tragedies never happen again. Nothing is more important.”
The Maine Legislature resumes its work on Thursday, August 30. Sen. Diamond hopes that LD 1922, as well as the other four bills designed to overhaul the Department of Health and Human Services’ child protective services system, will receive a thoughtful public hearing and work session, where the input and insight of parents, law enforcement officials and child welfare experts will be taken into consideration. He is prepared to work with stakeholders, lawmakers and the governor to pass legislation that will begin rebuilding Maine’s child welfare system. The other four bills are:
· , which adds penalties for failure to report abuse;
· , which directs the DHHS to retain all criminal records related to child welfare instead of expunging them after 18 months;
· , which gives DHHS access to confidential criminal records;
· , which provides more staff and resources so that DHHS can do its job more effectively.
“Other states have taken steps to improve their processes of finding the best home for abused children,” said Sen. Diamond. “I believe Maine should follow suit and craft a smart law that prioritizes the best fit for the child.”