LISBON — I saw a promo for the TV news where outgoing Gov. John Baldacci said he wished he had communicated better with the people of Maine. I am not sure what he meant, but I have wished the same thing. I wish he had tooted his own horn a little more about the improvements his administration made in the child protective system.

Before Baldacci, there were more than 3,000 children in foster care in Maine — percentage-wise, the fourth-highest amount in the nation. Now there are 1,569.

Before Baldacci, fewer than 4 percent of our foster kids were in kinship placements with relatives who already knew and loved them. Workers at the old Department of Human Services took pride in repeating, “In Maine, we believe the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree” — even though studies showed that kinship placements were far safer than placements with strangers.

Now 30 percent of our foster kids are with relatives, many going directly to those relatives without a single night spent in foster care.

SAFETY IMPROVEMENTS

Now the emphasis is on keeping families together to weather life’s storms with the support of Family Wraparound Teams. And our safety numbers have never been better.

It wasn’t all Baldacci’s doing. As he said when I met him at the State House, “Changing DHS is like turning around a steamship at sea. You need a lot of people pushing and you can’t stop for a minute or it will drift back.” He put the right leaders in place and then encouraged and supported, while they pushed and pushed and pushed.

Obviously those leaders he put in place deserve credit and thanks. Jack Nicholas came out of retirement to lead DHS as it merged with the Department of Behavioral and Developmental Services to create the Department of Health and Human Services, and reformed its child protective system. Nicholas met with our group, the Maine Alliance for DHS Accountability and Reform, three days after he was named commissioner. When he went back into retirement, Brenda Harvey took his place and continued his good work.

Jim Beougher moved here from Michigan with the sole purpose of making our child protective system actually protect children and their families. He understood from his experience in Michigan, as well as from all the recent studies, that children do better with their birth families in all but the most severe circumstances. And that keeping families together is cheaper than ripping them apart.

His proudest accomplishment may be getting Maine kids out of the group homes and institutions, now considered to be ineffective at raising kids, but great at raking in money. My last two foster kids were great examples of that. Brother and sister spent three years in separate institutions when they had a perfectly good grandmother across state lines who was a nurse and a licensed foster parent. That cost the state of Maine close to a million dollars.

Maine’s success has been so dramatic that we were finalists for Harvard’s prestigious Innovations in American Government Awards last year. Other states now come to Maine to learn how we did it.

That is why the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform calls Jan. 31, 2001, “the day child welfare changed” and adds “and not just in Maine.” Because that day, 10 years ago this month, is the day a 5-year-old girl named Logan Marr died at the hands of her foster mother.

Logan is the other person these reforms would not have happened without.

MAKING THEM LISTEN

It is not that no one noticed that DHS was out of control before Logan died. Many good people were trying to bring attention to the problem without success. Logan’s death made lawmakers listen. Her sweet face made the public care.

But Logan died 10 years ago and John Baldacci became governor eight years ago. For two years there was plenty of talk but no action. It took the new governor to turn emotion into action and get Maine on the road to reform.

All the players in these reforms, including the frontline workers, can pat themselves on the back for a job well done. But Logan’s family is still living without her.

I am sure they would rather have her back than hear how important she was to the state of Maine but no one can do that for them. All we can do on the 10th anniversary of her death Jan. 31 is thank them for their dignity and say we are sorry.

— Special to the Telegram