PORTLAND — More than 90 Maine children in foster care will have to get services elsewhere because Casey Family Services is shutting its offices in seven states to redirect those resources into grants.

“We’re losing a quality provider of foster care treatment, so that’s disappointing,” said Therese Cahill-Low, director of the Office of Child and Family Services in Maine’s Department of Health and Human Services. “For the children, it’s going to be a transition, and that’s hard because these kids already have been through a lot.”

Casey Family Services, an arm of the Baltimore-based Annie E. Casey Foundation, provides foster care, adoption and family reunification services in seven Northeast states, including Maine. It has offices in Portland and Bangor.

“The decision to change our strategy … is a significant milestone in our organization’s history,” Patrick McCarthy, a trustee and president and CEO of the Casey Foundation, said in a prepared statement Tuesday. “As the human services environment changes, we see an opportunity to help strengthen the work of frontline staff who often make life and death decisions on behalf of vulnerable children and families.”

The shift will eliminate an estimated 280 jobs, including 42 in Maine, most of which are for social workers or clinicians. Of the more than 1,600 children in foster care in Maine, 92 are contracted through Casey Family Services.

Tuesday’s announcement surprised Portland Mayor Michael Brennan, who is chairman of the board of Casey Family Services. Brennan, who has been a board member for 20 years, said he was not involved in the discussion or the decision to shut down the agency.

“I think it was the wrong decision and I’m incredibly disappointed,” he said.

Brennan said he’s not convinced that other agencies will be able to do what Casey Family Services does. “We have provided some of the best long-term foster care treatment in the country,” he said.

Casey Family Services’ work in Maine is mostly in three areas.

First, it works with local and state organizations to identify families that are at risk of having children removed from homes, then helps provide parents with skills they need to keep families intact.

Second, when children can no longer live with their birth families because of neglect or abuse, Casey Family Services works to find foster families.

Third, the agency works with parents who have adopted children through foster care to address any emotional or psychological challenges the children face during adoption.

Mark Millar directs the Maine division of Casey Family Services and has been with the agency since it was established here in 1986. He said the closure will put pressure on a vulnerable system, but he is confident that other agencies will meet the demand.

“We at Casey Family Services mourn the loss of providing services, but the commitment Annie E. Casey has isn’t going to go away,” Millar said.

The foundation said it plans to work with all states to transition most children and foster families to other service providers by the end of this year. All Casey Family Services offices will close by July 2013.

“As the director, I will ensure that each family that we serve has a smooth transition to meet both clinical and emotional needs,” Millar said.

Throughout the transition, the Annie E. Casey Foundation plans to build partnerships with agencies that ultimately will receive grant funds to carry out adoption and foster care services. It’s not clear how much grant funding will be offered through the foundation and how it will compare with the operating budget of Casey Family Services.

Foundation spokesman Norris West said Tuesday that he could not immediately answer those questions.

Cahill-Low, in the Office of Child and Family Services, said she’s nervous because Maine will soon have to compete nationwide for grant funds instead of getting services directly from the agency.

Casey Family Services’ employees will receive training, where appropriate, and severance packages.

The Annie E. Casey Foundation was established in 1948 by UPS founder Jim Casey and his siblings, who named the organization after their mother, to promote public policy and reforms that protect vulnerable children and families.

Casey Family Services was founded in 1976 to provide foster care services directly to children. It operates in all six New England states, as well as Maryland.

 

Staff Writer Eric Russell can be contacted at 791-6344 or at: [email protected]

Twitter: @PPHEricRussell