AUGUSTA — Lawmakers are moving forward with plans to pass a bill by summer’s end to address weaknesses in Maine’s child protective service system that came to light after two children were beaten to death in the past six months.

Sen. Bill Diamond, D-Windham, said Thursday that he hopes the Legislature will convene in a special session “no later than September” to vote on a bill under early development by the Government Oversight Committee rather than wait until the 2019 legislative session.

The deaths of Kendall Chick, 4, left, and Marissa Kennedy, 10, spurred an inquiry into the state’s child-protection system. Photos courtesy of Maine Attorney General's Office

Committee members expect to iron out details of the bill this month, but the legislation is likely to seek to address concerns about staffing levels at the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, information-sharing between agencies and the debate over family reunification versus the best interests of the child.

“I think we really do have an emergency situation,” Diamond told fellow committee members Thursday. “I would hope by (June) 28th we could come out of committee with some definite legislation or pieces of legislation that will allow us to then say to the governor, ‘Look, we are working together on this … and we’re ready to come back when you can do that so we can deal with this issue, as opposed to next February, March or April.’ ”

Maine’s child protective services have been under intense scrutiny since two girls – 4-year-old Kendall Chick of Wiscasset and 10-year-old Marissa Kennedy of Stockton Springs – died in late 2017 and early 2018. Authorities say both girls were severely abused at home over a long period of time, and questions have swirled about why DHHS never picked up on the dangerous situations or failed to follow up on reports of suspected abuse.

Marissa Kennedy’s mother, Sharon Carrillo, and stepfather, Julio Carrillo, have been charged with depraved indifference murder in her death. And Shawna Gatto, the fiancee of Kendall Chick’s paternal grandfather, has been charged with depraved indifference murder in her death.

An initial report by the state’s independent watchdog and investigative agency, the Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability, faulted DHHS for not following its own policies and procedures when assessing the safety of one girl’s placement. The report, which was vaguely written because of the ongoing criminal investigations of the girls’ parents or caregivers as well as confidentiality laws, also said entities within DHHS and other agencies failed to share information that, when pieced together, might have called attention to the abuse.

OPEGA Executive Director Beth Ashcroft said Thursday that her office would outline some of the major components of a potential bill during the committee’s June 28 meeting. Those would include training of so-called “mandated reporters” (such as teachers, doctors or anyone required to report suspicious abuse); Maine’s policies on family reunification and prioritizing placement with family members; and potential statutory or legal barriers that prevent information on cases from being shared.

The accountability office is analyzing the changes that DHHS is implementing on its own in response to the deaths, but also can recommend potential legislative fixes that would be needed, Ashcroft said.

Maine Political Report



During a hearing last month, Gov. Paul LePage told Government Oversight Committee members that he would be willing to call the Legislature back into a special session this year specifically to deal with the issues surrounding child abuse and child protective services.

LePage also called for tougher penalties for mandated reporters who do not report suspected abuse, and said reunification of children with their parents should be “a tool in helping get what is best for a child” but not necessarily a priority. Citing his own childhood experience of escaping an abusive father, LePage said that if there had been another attempt at reunification in his case “my father or myself would not have lived to maturity.”

“Placing the priority on family reunification forces the system and the courts to try to keep vulnerable children in a family when the best thing would be to remove the child from the situation,” LePage said in a separate letter to the committee.

Committee members also asked Ashcroft to check into staffing levels at DHHS in response to concerns that child protective services is unable to keep track of the reports of suspected abuse.

“I have got some information coming from so many different people that reports to DHHS child protective services are not followed through on, and that’s where kids die,” Diamond said.

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