The Maine Department of Health and Human Services refused to say Wednesday when it first learned that child abuse might be occurring at the home of Ethan Henderson, the 10-week-old boy who died after his father allegedly lifted him by the head and threw him into a chair.

According to an affidavit filed by Maine State Police, a DHHS staff member told investigators Saturday that a day care provider had reported that Ethan and his twin brother, Lucas, had been sick and had not been treated.

The day care provider also told the DHHS that the twins’ half sister, 3-year-old Neveah, had arrived at the day care center “covered in bruises,” the affidavit says.

Ethan Henderson died Tuesday, three days after he suffered brain injuries at his home in Arundel.

The DHHS refused to say who alerted the department, whether the case had been assigned to a social worker, and whether any steps had been taken to remove the children from the home before Ethan suffered his injuries Saturday.

State law requires disclosure of such information — particularly in cases in which a child has died — unless the Attorney General’s Office says its release would jeopardize an investigation.

William Stokes, chief of the attorney general’s criminal division, said his office told the DHHS on Tuesday that it shouldn’t disclose the information because it could affect the investigation of Gordon Collins-Faunce, the infant’s father. Police have charged Collins-Faunce with depraved indifference murder, elevated aggravated assault, aggravated assault and assault in his son’s death.

Stokes said his office will consider the matter to be under investigation until a trial is concluded, so information that could shed light on whether the DHHS handled the case properly will not be made public until then.

Stokes would not specify how releasing information on any DHHS investigation before the alleged assault might affect the state’s case against Collins-Faunce.

He did say that he is concerned about pretrial publicity, and that it’s common for his office to withhold details of a case to ensure that testimony is not influenced by information released to the public.

“Our practice has been for 35 years since I’ve been here … to never make any comment” about pending cases, Stokes said. “We’ve decided that release of that type of investigative material would jeopardize the ongoing investigation.”

State Rep. Meredith Strang Burgess, R-Cumberland, a co-chair of the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee, said she expects the committee may review how the case was handled but she doesn’t want to investigate “in the heat of the moment.”

If the committee does look into the case, she said, she will expect the DHHS to be more forthcoming.

“We’re supposed to be able to bark and the department is supposed to pay some attention to us,” Burgess said.

DHHS procedures call for the department to act quickly if it suspects that a child is in imminent danger, said Therese Cahill-Lowe, director of the department’s Office of Child and Family Services.

She said the DHHS maintains a 24-hour hotline, staffed by as many as eight licensed social workers, for people to call in cases of suspected child abuse.

The workers take reports — schools are the biggest source, she said — and ask about:

The nature of the suspected abuse or neglect.

Whether others might know of the possible abuse.

Safety concerns such as guns in the house or substance abuse.

Any history of violence in the family.

Cahill-Lowe said the workers assess each report. They can send a report immediately to one of eight district offices for assignment to a social worker who will evaluate the situation. A report is supposed to be sent and assigned within 24 hours of the call if the worker finds it credible, Cahill-Lowe said.

A social worker in a district office is supposed to contact the family or go to see the child within 72 hours after the case is sent from the hotline.

At least one social worker in each district is on call around the clock, she said, and a social worker who thinks a child might be in danger will contact police.

When such immediate action isn’t needed, a social worker meets with the child and looks for injuries, and talks to parents and looks for signs of agitation or abnormal interaction with the child.

The DHHS also looks at factors such as appropriate clothing and the condition of the house, and interviews a child’s teachers, guidance counselor, doctors, friends, relatives and neighbors.

The department’s actions depend on the situation, said Cahill-Lowe, ranging from an assessment that no abuse is occurring to a decision to remove the child from the home immediately and seek a court order to take the child from the parents.

“We will go to a judge’s house to get signatures” if the department determines that immediate action is needed, she said.

An intermediate step is having a relative take in the child, with strict rules on where and how parents can visit, Cahill-Lowe said.

“It’s incredibly traumatic for a child to be removed from a home,” but going to a relative’s house is less traumatic, she said.

Cahill-Lowe said the DHHS works for as long as two years to get a child back with his or her parents if the parents are getting help and making progress. Generally, however, the department likes to resolve cases in a year or less.

Staff Writer Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at:

[email protected]