I have been working on child abuse and child protection legislation for the past 18 years and for the first time we have a real opportunity to fix the broken child protection system in Maine. But we must act now.

Since 2001 we have struggled clumsily, ineffectively and inconsistently in our efforts to protect our children in state care. All with the best of intentions – all with the same failed results.

The biggest problem in the past has been a lack of legislative time and stamina to focus on a long-term solution. We reacted to child tragedies in a knee-jerk fashion looking for a quick fix. Why? The abuses and murders were so horrific it caused us to rush to fix the problem. But we got distracted with other issues, then the Legislature ran out of time so … we had to go home.

For example, on Jan. 31, 2001, 5-year old Logan Marr was found dead in her foster mother’s basement. Police found over 40 feet of duct tape which they say had been used to wrap around her body including her head, face and mouth. She was duct taped in a high chair that fell over causing her to die of asphyxiation, according to the police.

This was a heart-wrenching tragedy. The state prosecutor said regarding Logan’s death, “gasping for breath is not an easy way to die – this certainly does border on torture.”

Logan’s death created the expected reactions as legislators and the public wanted answers about how this could happen to a child in state care.

The Department of Health and Human Services declared that they would fix the problem – remember this was 2001. Their solution: add more supervisors, add more caseworkers, reduce the numbers of children in state care, increase family training, and most importantly, place at-risk children with family members when possible.

Eighteen years later, children in state care are still dying – the system is still broken and the good intentions are still there. By the way, when Kendall Chick and Marissa Kennedy were tortured and murdered  they were living with family members.

Following those murders DHHS policy and the law was changed so that family placement wasn’t the top priority. Just the opposite from the 2001 directive.

Then, on April 7, as a result of the Chick and Kennedy deaths, DHHS held a press conference and presented changes to fix the broken system. Their proposal included:

Hiring more staff, addressing the opiod problems in families, addressing sleeping safety and, of course, lower caseloads. All good intentions, most of which we’ve heard before.

As Shawn Yardley, CEO of the Lewiston-based Community Concepts, said regarding the most recent proposals to fix the child protection system, “Same conversation we’ve had for 10 even 20 years.”

DHHS has many challenges and is always facing a crisis. They play a key role in change, but they can’t do it alone, as has been proven. Following each tragedy a plan to fix the broken system has been presented. It never works and children still die.

Since Logan Marr’s tragic death in 2001 we’ve had more than seven different DHHS commissioners and four different governors. For us to think that this department can now solve this problem by itself is naïve and flies in the face of proven history.

The Government Oversight Committee and the Offices of Program Evaluation and Program Accountability have already provided important information through their investigations and their recent report is very revealing. Their ongoing involvement is critical to finding a solution.

A special commission that would focus entirely on creating a reliable child protective system is key. This would provide our best chance for true reform.

My bill, LD 1554, if passed, will create that commission.

While you are reading this column, children in Maine are being beaten and tortured and the only reason we don’t know their names is because they haven’t died yet.

We can’t wait until more children die. We have to face the fact “that good intentions” are no longer acceptable.

 

 

 

 

 


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