Dear Governor LePage,

What the hell is the matter with you?

This is not a rhetorical question. Nor does it apply to your countless past foibles in the seven-plus years that you’ve masqueraded as Maine’s chief executive.

I’m talking about Maine’s children here. Especially those who, at this very moment, are staying home from school so their teachers won’t see the bruises they suffered last night or the tears in their eyes that bear silent witness to the fact that something in their young lives has gone horribly, unimaginably wrong.

Don’t you dare shrug. Trash the media if you must, but it won’t erase this stain on your soul. You know exactly what I’m talking about.

I’m talking about your decision to pull the plug on Maine’s Community Partnerships for Protecting Children, which for the past decade has worked wonders to pool the resources so vital to watching over at-risk children and helping parents keep their families on an even keel.

You say, through your minions in the Department of Health and Human Services, that the $2.2 million program duplicates other state services. A chorus of social service providers says you’re wrong. Dead wrong.

But that’s not all. Beyond your hacking away at Maine’s social safety net, I’m also talking about you.

About your own childhood.

About your stunning lack of empathy for kids all over Maine whose very lives are at risk – much like yours was back when you were a poor kid growing up in Lewiston’s hardscrabble “Little Canada” neighborhood.

I’m talking about that oft-told narrative you used to catapult yourself into the Blaine House, how your father beat you badly enough one night to land you in an emergency room with a broken nose and a fractured jaw. There, the story goes, he slipped you that legendary half-dollar and told you to tell anyone who asked that you’d fallen down the stairs.

Instead, as you recalled to the Portland Press Herald in 2014, “I said, ‘Nope, I’m outta here.’ Running away at 11 saved my life. Because after that, the people I ran into were all good people.”

How lucky you were. How rare such good fortune.

If only the same could be said for 10-year-old Marissa Kennedy, who died last weekend after months of whippings and beatings, allegedly at the hands of her parents. They’re both in jail now, charged with depraved indifference murder.

Remember when you were 11, Governor? Remember how it felt to be knocked to the floor and kicked repeatedly in the head until a brave neighbor stepped in and likely saved your life?

One might think that you’d have said something about poor Marissa by now, at least have your press people put out a statement expressing your shock and anguish that someone so young, so helpless, had no “good people” to catch her as she fell through the cracks in her world gone mad.

But you said nothing. Nor, to date, has anyone in the DHHS.

The same goes for 4-year-old Kendall Chick, placed by the DHHS with a Wiscasset couple only to be beaten to death in December. The woman of the house, Shawna L. Gatto, now stands charged with murder.

Little Kendall lived on Crickets Lane. How fitting, considering the silence from her governor’s office and the department that put her in harm’s way.

I’ve spent some time this week talking with people devoted to protecting kids like Kendall and Marissa.

One was Mark Moran, a social worker at Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor. Moran chairs the Maine Child Death and Crisis Review Panel, two dozen professionals representing law enforcement, medicine, social services and other equally essential threads in our statewide safety net. Since 1992, they’ve worked their tails off to examine all the bad things that happen to Maine kids and report every couple of years what the rest of us should best be doing about it.

Let’s assume, as neighbors of Marissa’s family have attested, that she was at least on DHHS’s radar.

“If that were the case, then whoever the staff people are who were involved at some point, they’re not sleeping so well, quite honestly,” said Moran, who himself worked for five years as an investigator for Maine’s Office of Child and Family Services. “I can tell you with a high level of confidence that when something bad like this happens, it shakes people in the department to their core.”

Of that I have no doubt. Those who work on the front lines to protect others, especially vulnerable children, are driven far more by their own humanity than visions of fame or fortune.

Still, I noted to Moran that the review panel’s last report covers data only through 2013. Nothing since then?

Actually, he replied, a report covering 2014 and 2015 was submitted to the DHHS commissioner’s office a year ago. But only the commissioner is authorized to release it to the public.

“It has not been publicly disseminated, as far as I’m aware,” Moran said, noting that it landed on the commissioner’s desk around the time Mary Mayhew was leaving to run for governor and current commissioner Ricker Hamilton was taking over.

“So, I’m not sure if something may have fallen through the cracks or where that exists at this particular moment,” Moran said.

Wednesday morning, I emailed the DHHS asking what ever happened to the review panel’s latest findings. Miraculously, just before 6 p.m., a copy dropped into my email inbox.

Tell us, Governor, have you even flipped through the 46-page report since it was submitted to your administration a year ago tomorrow? Do you consider it worthy of your time?

Besides the increases in infant head trauma and serious injuries inflicted on children, I was struck by the panel’s observation that DHHS “decisions and ability to respond to reports of child abuse or neglect is based on factors such as the seriousness or complexity of the allegations and the availability of resources.”

Availability of resources? That’s a limiting factor for detecting kids who get pummeled from the day they come home from the maternity ward? Isn’t that what Community Partnerships for Protecting Children was all about before you quietly drained its resources dry?

I also spoke with Dr. Lawrence Ricci, a longtime member of the review panel and a national leader – in fact one of the founders – of the emerging field of child abuse pediatrics.

“I think our responsibility, as simply citizens of the state, is to try to assure that our children are safe – not just our own personal children, but the children that we come into contact with,” Ricci told me. “What we know, from other cases all over the country, is that when you drill down into these cases, there were often many opportunities to intervene, to protect the child, that were missed.”

Ricci recently completed a book, scheduled for release this month by Praeger, called “What Happened in the Woodshed: The Secret Lives of Battered Children and a New Profession to Protect Them.”

It’s 184 pages of real stories about real kids, buttressed by Ricci’s own reflections and those of 30 child abuse pediatricians the world over who have dedicated their lives to eradicating this blight on humanity.

Subscribe – Nemitz



A central theme is that we as a society can protect our abused children only by working together across professions, across demographics, across the insidious power of denial.

“Astonishingly, in the United States, the lifetime prevalence (through age 17) of a child being investigated by the child welfare system is 37 percent,” Ricci writes. “This means that by the time children reach their 18th birthday, fully a third will have been the subject of a child protective investigation. Although it is true that only 22 percent of investigated cases are substantiated, it is also true that most children who are investigated for abuse, even if not substantiated, later suffer from a variety of negative outcomes. These outcomes can include further abuse, even death.”

Indeed, they do. In the past few months alone, Maine has lost two.

I’ll close with two simple suggestions, Governor LePage.

First, put down the damned budget cleaver.

Second, pick up Ricci’s book.

It might bring back some memories.

Bill Nemitz can be contacted at:

[email protected]

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