AUGUSTA — Maine has moved ahead on a long-in-the-works plan to improve its child welfare system by selecting a winning bidder to replace its aged computer system.

The state Department of Health and Human Services confirmed Friday it has conditionally awarded the contract to New York firm Deloitte Consulting, which offered a $36 million proposal for a new computer system. Deloitte, which has worked on 22 child welfare systems since 1993, was notified in early July of the state’s decision.

“(T)he department proceeded with urgency but not haste to ensure a smooth transition and a system that effectively meets child welfare’s long-term needs and advances the safety and wellbeing of Maine children,” said Department of Health and Human Services spokeswoman Jackie Farwell Friday.

She said the new system will help staff comply with state and federal mandates while tracking, recording and processing all child welfare cases. Federal regulators must also approve the contract.

Child advocates and elected officials have pressed for such reform following the deaths of two girls, 4-year-old Kendall Chick in December 2017 in Wiscasset and 10-year-old Marissa Kennedy in February 2018 in Stockton Springs.

The state Medical Examiner’s Office concluded Kennedy was victim of battered child syndrome and listed injuries including bleeding in the brain, a lacerated liver and “multiple old injuries.” An autopsy showed Chick had more than a dozen injuries consistent with severe child abuse.

Over half of 141 caseworkers surveyed by a governmental watchdog last fall reported their workload “rarely” or “never” allowed reasonable time to work with families. The report said the “dramatic and sudden” spike followed the deaths of two young girls from alleged child abuse and 2018 policy changes within the state agency that lacked guidance.

The Legislature passed funding last fall for a new computer system as part of an 11th-hour, $21.2 million child welfare reform package. That includes the Legislature’s approval of $8 million in federal funds to start to replace the aging computer information system, which the state health agency has for years called inefficient and outdated. The current computer system dates back to 1998.

Lawmakers have since pushed the agency to move swiftly on such plans.

Deloitte told the state that its system has offline capability and that it can offer an eighteen-month implementation plan.

Its $36 million proposal was well below other competing proposals that topped $60 million. Farwell said the department has enough funds – including the $8 million appropriated by the Legislature – to cover Deloitte’s proposal.

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