The Legislature’s watchdog agency will take an additional three weeks to complete its investigation into how the state’s child protective system dealt with abuse reports of two Maine girls who were beaten to death. But the agency was able to gather the information it needs – despite concerns about state privacy laws – and will produce a report.

Beth Ashcroft, director of the Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability, which is examining the two abuse cases, said the original timeline to complete the report – May 2 – was too aggressive considering the myriad of legal and privacy issues they had to navigate before even receiving information from various agencies.

The report will instead be released May 24 at a Government Oversight Committee meeting in Augusta. A more wide-ranging report on the overall effectiveness of the state’s Child Protective Services program will be released later this year by OPEGA. Since the late 2000s, caseloads for Maine CPS workers have increased by about 50 percent, according to a federal report. Reports of suspected child abuse and neglect cases jumped from 6,313 cases in 2008 to 8,279 cases in 2016, the latest year statistics were available, according to state statistics.

Agencies that may have provided information to OPEGA about the two girls – such as the Maine Department of Health and Human Services and the Attorney General’s Office – had to weigh what could be given to the watchdog agency against confidentiality issues related to court proceedings. State officials, including Health and Human Services Commissioner Ricker Hamilton and Attorney General Janet Mills – have said that certain information being publicly released could jeopardize pending criminal cases.

The parents or caregivers of 10-year-old Marissa Kennedy of Stockton Springs and 4-year-old Kendall Chick of Wiscasset have been charged with murder in their deaths. Chick died Dec. 8, while Kennedy died Feb. 25 after police said she had been beaten at home for months. Shawna Gatto, 43, of Wiscasset, is charged with depraved indifference murder in the death of Kendall Chick. Marissa Kennedy’s mother, Sharon Carrillo, 33, of Stockton Springs, and her husband, Julio Carrillo, 51, Marissa’s stepfather, have been charged with depraved indifference murder.

Ashcroft said the agency had to determine what could be put into the report, which will be released to the public, to comply with state confidentiality laws. Bangor school officials have said publicly that when the Carrillos lived in Bangor prior to moving to Stockton Springs in the fall of 2017, school officials reported suspected abuse of Marissa Kennedy to Maine DHHS. Bangor police had also been to the Carrillo residence on multiple occasions. School officials in Stockton Springs have refused to comment on what steps, if any, were taken to report abuse. According to a police affidavit, the Carrillos are accused of beating Marissa every day from October until her death in February.

“This is not going to be an instance where we can give a blow-by-blow account of what happened. It will be highly summarized,” Ashcroft said. She said that it took a few weeks for OPEGA to receive the information it sought after the agency was given its charge on March 9 by the Government Oversight Committee.

“We have reviewed all of the information we received, and we got everything we needed to analyze the information and write the report,” Ashcroft said.

State Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta, co-chair of the Government Oversight Committee, said that OPEGA is doing a great job despite the “legal thicket” of the confidentiality laws.

“It is a testament to the OPEGA staff that they are able to turn this around quickly. The issue will be how much of what they learn will actually be released in their report and at our hearing, due to both federal and state confidentiality laws. We all want to know just what happened here, but this is a legal thicket,” Katz said.

Joe Lawlor can be reached at [email protected] or at 791-6376

Twitter: @joelawlorph

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