I am writing in response to the May 31 article “LePage to push for child protection reforms, seek criminal penalties for failure to report suspected abuse.”

This article uses the subheading “Arguing Against Reunification” to characterize my recommendation that Maine’s statutes be revised so that the priority is on what is best for the child, not family reunification. As I told the Government Oversight Committee, “Placing the priority on family reunification forces the system and the courts to try to keep vulnerable children in a family when the best thing would be to remove the child from the situation.” I emphasized, “The overarching priority in our review is what is best for the child.”

I want my position to be clear. I am not against family reunification. What I am against are statutes that require repeated and sometimes failing attempts at reunification and prioritize those above what is best for the child. Because 22 MRS §4003 states that “3. Reunification as a priority. Give family rehabilitation and reunification priority as a means for protecting the welfare of children, but prevent needless delay for permanent plans for children when rehabilitation and reunification is not possible,” the priority has been on keeping children with their parents. The Maine Department of Health and Human Services must demonstrate to the courts that rehabilitation and reunification are not possible; this is not placing the child’s welfare first. This leads to the natural questions: How many times must family reunification or rehabilitation fail before the system determines it is not possible? What is the damage done to the child as a result of those failed attempts?

Later in the article, in describing how Maine shifted to placing the priority on reunification, the article states, “Logan (Marr)’s death spurred a number of reforms in Maine that emphasized keeping children with parents or relatives when possible.” That is the crux of the issue — *when possible.* By clarifying the law so that reunification is secondary to the best interests of the child, we can have greater flexibility in making determinations about the feasibility, appropriateness and effectiveness of reunification on a case-by-case basis. That will allow our system to always put the best interests of the child first.

Paul R. LePage is governor of Maine.

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