Critics of the state’s oversight of child protective cases have slammed a watchdog agency’s conclusion that workers didn’t make any unsound decisions in the weeks and months leading up the murder of 3-year-old Maddox Williams.

During an emotional hearing before the Legislature’s Government Oversight Committee on Friday, they pointed to his mother’s long criminal record and known mental health and substance use history, and the failure of the state to follow its own laws.

Maddox Williams Photo from the #justiceformaddox GoFundMe page

Bill Diamond, a former state senator who served on the committee for eight years, said the report by the Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability (OPEGA) fell short of its reputation of seeking truth and accountability from state agencies. Instead, the report “sidestepped” problems in the department and “provided a flag of exoneration to be waved as needed,” he said.

“It saddens me to say this, but this report was a disservice to you as a committee, a misrepresentation to the public and a crushing insult to the family of Maddox Williams,” Diamond said.

The review of the Maddox Williams case is the second of four OPEGA investigations prompted by child deaths that happened nearly two years ago.

OPEGA Director Peter Schleck told lawmakers that he would reflect on the testimony and address it at a later meeting. He declined to comment further to the Press Herald.


Maddox’s mother, Jessica Trefethen, was sentenced in December to 47 years in prison for depraved indifference murder in her son’s June 2021 death, which doctors attributed to battered child syndrome. Trefethen had not been involved in the first two years of her son’s life when she was awarded custody in 2020.

The report, released last month, illustrated the complicated case of a family that drew the attention of Maine’s Child Protective Services beginning in 2013 because of struggles with mental health and substance use. The case involved several children fathered by three different men, overlapping protective cases, criminal cases, a divorce proceeding and a custody battle.

The OPEGA report determined that the state’s decisions “were not unsound” within the framework of current laws and policies, although it also said there were several “missed opportunities” caused by a departure from policies.

Christine Alberi, director of the state’s independent child welfare ombudsman’s office, told the committee that she “respectfully disagreed” with OPEGA’s conclusion, saying that Child Protective Services missed its best chance to intervene in March 2018, when Maddox’s half siblings entered state custody after one of them ingested methadone.

Maddox was in the custody of his father, Andrew Williams, at the time.

Alberi said the state did not seek to terminate parental rights after Maddox’s half siblings were in state custody for 15 months, at which point a termination filing is required by state law unless it’s determined not to be in the child’s best interest.


If the state does not file a termination request, officials must provide an explanation why it is not in the child’s best interest. OPEGA determined that no such explanation was ever offered to the court.

“My recommendation is very clear – I think those petitions to terminate rights should be filed in accordance with the statute in most instances, unless the parents really are doing well,” Alberi said, adding that her annual report found six cases in which the state did not follow the statute.

Alberi criticized the state for beginning reunification efforts with Maddox’s half siblings despite evidence that Trefethen had not adequately addressed her mental health and substance issues, or her hostile behavior.

That decision, Alberi said, set forth a chain of events that led the state to withdraw its request for a temporary protection order against Trefethen, allowing her to regain custody after Maddox’s father was arrested twice in a two months – for a burglary and substance use in the presence of his son.

“There is no doubt that the department’s argument to the court that Maddox would be unsafe with his mother was undermined by their decision weeks earlier to start a trial placement with the mother for Maddox’s siblings,” Alberi said. “The department’s decision to withdraw the petition was another consequential safety decision.”



Maddox’s paternal grandmother, Victoria Vose, said during the hearing that the Office of Child and Family Services had “blood on its hands” for awarding custody to Trefethen, who had a long criminal history, extensive involvement with child protection and four drug-exposed babies.

“Maddox wasn’t safe, stable, happy or healthy in the care of that known monster,” Vose said.

Jessica Trefethen listens as Assistant Attorney General John Risler addresses jurors in Waldo County Superior Court in Belfast on October 5. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Vose said she repeatedly expressed concerns about her grandson’s safety with his mother, pointing specifically to her hostile and violent behavior.

One caseworker justified Trefethen’s behavior, describing her as a “lioness taking care her cubs (which) is why she’s so verbal and uncooperative,” Vose said. “She didn’t take care of my grandson.”

Vose also criticized the department for not following up on a report of domestic violence witnessed by the children, including Maddox. Trefethen did not allow a caseworker to speak to any children and only allowed the caseworker to observe Maddox in a darkened room, while covered and sleeping.

That detail was also called out by Betsy Grant, a child care provider of 23 years who said caseworkers frequently failed to adequately observe children during investigations.


“Every day as we followed the tragic story of Maddox Williams, the obvious and preventable danger kept leaping out to me,” said Grant, who described herself as a child welfare reform warrior. “I could tell every new development that there was no eyes put on the child.”

The oversight committee already has reviewed the department’s actions leading up to the death of Hailey Goding, a 3-year-old girl from Old Town who died of an overdose after ingesting her mother’s drugs. The mother, Hillary Goding, waited 20 hours before seeking medical help for her daughter. She pleaded guilty to manslaughter and was sentenced to 19 years in prison.

In Goding’s case, OPEGA found that the state investigated every lead and followed state law and policies as best it could, including conducting onsite visits and interviews in the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic. But the office could not develop the evidence needed to make a court claim that the child’s health was in danger.

Reports on the other two children, 6-week-old Jaden Harding of Brewer and 1-month-old Sylus Melvin of Milo, will be released after the cases work their way through the courts.

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