Maine lawmakers grilled Maine Department of Education Commissioner Pender Makin Tuesday over the state’s failure to support children with disabilities from birth until 6 years old.

Legislators called the Child Development Services agency “broken” and said the lack of appropriate support for the state’s youngest disabled residents is “disturbing.” They grilled Makin on what the department, which oversees Child Development Services, is going to do to get the program back on track.

Federal law requires that children with disabilities receive support so they can access education and succeed in society.

Child Development Services is the state agency responsible for providing those services to young Mainers with disabilities. But it is falling short of meeting its responsibilities, according to recent reports.

Makin appeared before the Education and Cultural Affairs Committee Tuesday morning to update lawmakers on a list of recommendations the department plans to publish next year to address the challenges that Child Development Services is facing.

Her update was brief and lacked specifics, and seemed to frustrate committee members.


She said that the agency is facing significant challenges but did not specify what those challenges are or how they are impacting the students they are charged with serving. She broadly pinned the agency’s issues on its structure.

Tuesday’s meeting came less than a month after 96% of Child Development Services employees voted that they have no confidence in the agency’s director, Roberta Lucas, citing toxic work environments and long waits for children who need services.

Lucas was not at the meeting and Makin declined to answer questions from legislators about the no-confidence vote, including what Makin has done to communicate with Child Development Services staff since the vote. She said she could not comment on personnel matters. 

Child Development Services is charged with evaluating children, deciding if and what special services they need, and finding those services for them. 

For children up to 3 years old, the state provides in-home services. Starting at age 3, the state places children in special purpose preschools or with independent service providers, such as speech or occupational therapists, to receive appropriate supports.

Maine is the only state in the nation that organizes special services like this for children after age 3. Every other state provides services to students within public school systems.


Makin said this is one of the main reasons why the state is struggling and that challenges are limited to service provisions for children ages 3 to 6 and that the program for children ages 0 to 3 is “doing quite well.”

But public documents show that the challenges facing the agency go beyond structure and that all of its programs are struggling.

The agency is facing an enormous staffing shortage. 

In the 2022 fiscal year the average caseload for a Child Development Services case manager working with children ages 3 through 5 was 158 children, according to information from the agency’s 2023 report to the Legislature.

They’re only expected to manage 80, according to the agency. That means caseworkers last year were doing the work of two people on average. At minimum, they had 111 children.

One worker had to oversee 243.


The numbers weren’t much better for service coordinators supporting children ages 0 to 3 years, where the average case load was 83 – still about double the expected caseload of 45 children. Averages ranged from 44 to 244, depending on the site.

In October, the agency told employees they could no longer work overtime. Makin did not answer questions from legislators about this decision and it’s not clear if that means employees – some of whom are doing the work of multiple people – are now working extra hours for which they’re not paid, or if they’re prevented from doing so.


Audits also show that in recent years child outcomes have declined.

In the 2015 fiscal year, 49% of children ages 3 to 6 leaving Child Development Services had age appropriate social-emotional skills, 51% had age appropriate language, literacy and knowledge acquisition skills and 67% used age appropriate behaviors to have their needs met. 

In the 2020 fiscal year, the latest year for which data is publicly available, each category dropped by more than 10 percentage points, down to 35%, 36% and 52%, respectively. The drop was similar in the younger children.

The issues Child Development Services is facing are not new, but employees, advocates, legislators and service providers say the agency has gotten much worse in recent years and that something needs to change.

At Tuesday’s committee meeting, while stating the importance of Child Development Services and the work it does, Sen. James Libby, R-Cumberland, said the system as it stands is not working for Maine’s children. “We’re not meeting the mark,” Libby said.

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