The Maine House voted Tuesday to rescue a $2.2 million child abuse prevention program in an attempt to overturn efforts by the LePage administration to terminate it.

The bill to save the Community Partnerships for Protecting Children has attracted bipartisan support, with Democratic lawmakers joined by Republican Senate Majority Leader Michael Thibodeau and Republican Sen. Amy Volk of Scarborough. The measure was approved on a voice vote and will now go to the Senate.

The state is considering reforms in its child abuse protection system after a public outcry following the recent deaths of 10-year-old Marissa Kennedy of Stockton Springs and 4-year-old Kendall Chick of Wiscasset. The parents or caregivers of both children have been charged with depraved indifference murder in their deaths.

Maine Department of Health and Human Services officials announced in February that the child abuse prevention program would end in September. The bill would extend funding through Jan. 31 to give the incoming administration time to evaluate the program. Gov. Paul LePage is finishing his final term, and a new governor will take over in January. Democratic, Republican and independent candidates will vie in November to succeed LePage.

“In the past three months, we have been witness to two tragic deaths of children at the hands of child abusers,” said Rep. Pinny Beebe-Center, D-Rockland, the bill’s sponsor, in a statement. “Why on earth would we be cutting well-respected programs and jeopardizing the lives of even more children? I’m thankful for the bipartisan support of this legislation and shared determination to restore successful services that protect our kids.”

Shawna Gatto, Kendall Chick’s caregiver, has pleaded not guilty in her death. Marissa Kennedy’s mother and stepfather both face charges in her killing.


The abuse prevention program was started in Greater Portland in the mid-2000s by the nonprofit Opportunity Alliance, but in the last two years the program has expanded to all of southern Maine, Lewiston, Augusta, Bangor and Belfast, thanks to additional funding by the state.

Maine DHHS officials argue that the program duplicates other child abuse prevention programs, a contention sharply disputed by the nonprofit agencies providing the service.

In southern Maine, where it has been established for about a decade, the program partners with about 60 groups, including schools, nonprofits, law enforcement, local governments, churches and others to identify and help families at risk of abuse or neglect. The groups have monthly meetings to talk about children most at risk and share information.

“There isn’t a single one of us who isn’t highly disturbed by the recent news reports,” said Rep. Patty Hymanson, D-York, House chairwoman of the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee. “Every child deserves to be loved, cherished and kept safe from harm. Anyone in any position of authority needs to ask themselves if they are doing everything possible to maintain the highest standards when it comes to safety, health and well-being of our kids.”

DHHS and the Legislature’s watchdog agency, the Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability, are conducting investigations into the deaths of the two girls and also the overall performance of the child abuse protection system.

Marissa Kennedy had been beaten by her mother, Sharon Carrillo, 33, and her stepfather, Julio Carrillo, 51, for months before dying at home on Feb. 25, police have said.


In addition to Opportunity Alliance, nonprofits contracted to operate the CPPC program include Penquis in Bangor, Community Concepts in Augusta and Broadreach Family and Community Services in Belfast.

Michael Maher, deputy commissioner at Maine DHHS, testified during a March 23 public hearing on the bill that after “careful consideration” the agency determined that CPPC was duplicating other state child abuse prevention services.

“The department is strongly committed to the prevention of child abuse and neglect in Maine,” Maher said. “We are continually reviewing our processes and policies regarding the provision of services, to ensure the most effective methods are employed to prevent child abuse and neglect.”


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