Ensuring that children grow up safe is among the most sacred responsibilities of our society. From the moment a child comes home from the hospital, to the time they eventually leave home as an adult, they should be protected from harm, cared for with love and attention and supported in their growth and development. This great responsibility is shared by countless individuals and institutions throughout our state, from parents, doctors, teachers and law enforcement to our child welfare staff at the Maine Department of Health and Human Services and many others throughout state government.

As Sen. Bill Diamond notes in his recent op-ed, too many times over the course of history, Maine has fallen short of this responsibility. The names Logan Marr, Kendall Chick and Marissa Kennedy call forth memories of lives tragically cut short and commitments to change often unrealized. When I joined DHHS in April 2019 to lead its Office of Child of Family Services as part of the new administration under Gov. Mills, these names and these commitments, among others, motivated and guided our plans for improvements.

In two short years, DHHS has added more than 60 staff to OCFS and developed a comprehensive and strategic plan to promote safety, well-being and permanency for Maine children, which we are now implementing. This plan, which incorporates feedback from a wide range of stakeholders, including the review and report the state commissioned from the Public Consulting Group, has been regularly reviewed by the Legislature. We’re already seeing positive results.

As of April 6, 2,199 children were in state custody, below the level at the beginning of 2020 despite the many challenges associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. And along with this decline, we’ve increased the number of licensed resource (foster) homes by nearly 30 percent since 2019 through targeted recruitment and support.

We also closely track rates of abuse and neglect among children while in state care. Maine, and all states, aim for no such instances, and Maine’s rate is consistently well below the national standard.

We’ve partnered with the University of Southern Maine’s Muskie School of Public Service to conduct a comprehensive review of child welfare policies and to evaluate and improve training for new and existing staff. We’ve implemented an evidence-based approach to ensure staff make high-quality and consistent decisions about child safety. Not only does this training protect Maine children and families, but it also helps our staff to be effective in their critical work. Our rate of staff turnover has fallen and continues to fall, which contributes to a child welfare system with greater consistency and expertise.


Additionally, we developed a plan to implement the federal Family First Prevention Services Act, which will expand our prevention services and leverage critical federal funds that will help to keep children and families healthy and safe and prevent the need for children to come into the care and custody of the state.

This critical work and more has occurred under the leadership of Gov. Mills and DHHS Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew, who ensure that our efforts coordinate with and support other areas of DHHS and state government. For example, many families involved in the child welfare system interact with DHHS in multiple ways, such as through MaineCare coverage for doctors’ visits or assistance accessing healthy food and meeting their basic needs.

Creating a new state department to oversee child welfare, as Sen. Diamond’s bill proposes, would undermine this coordination and set back our progress, and create more administrative overhead that would be costlier to maintain, siphoning funding from providing services that directly support Maine children and families.

As Sen. Diamond also noted, we can’t wait to make critical improvements. We’re not waiting, and we can’t afford to waste precious time and resources in the midst of such significant momentum towards a system that better protects Maine’s children.

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