Logan Marr was born Oct. 14, 1995, and died Jan. 31, 2001, of asphyxiation as a result of more than 40 feet of duct tape being wrapped around her body, face and mouth, binding her in a high chair that was placed in the basement by her foster mother, Sally Schofield, reportedly to let Logan scream. According to the police, when the high chair tipped over, Logan died a slow and agonizing death. Schofield, a former caseworker for the agency then known as the Department of Human Services, was found guilty of manslaughter and served 17 years in prison.

The deaths of 4-year-old Kendall Chick, left, of Wiscasset and Marissa Kennedy, 10, of Stockton Springs exposed flaws in Maine’s child protection system. Photo courtesy of the Maine Office of the Attorney General

At the time DHS officials made it clear that they would “fix the problems” to prevent such a tragedy from happening again. They reorganized the department and on May 6, 2004, then-Gov. John Baldacci signed into law L.D. 1913, An Act to Establish the Department of Health and Human Services, combining the Department of Behavioral and Developmental Services and DHS, creating a bureaucracy twice the size of the original DHS. In 2006, the Maine Child Death and Serious Injury Review Panel, which was created in the early 1990s, identified continued poor investigative coordination between law enforcement and the “new” DHHS.

After working on child abuse and child protection issues for two decades, I’ve learned the glaring truth that today, 20 years after Logan’s death, children are still not being protected adequately from torture, physical and sexual abuse and are still dying while in state-supervised care.

We all sadly remember the tragic death of Kendall Chick. The 4-year-old girl died in Wiscasset on Dec. 8, 2017, from constant beatings by her grandfather’s girlfriend, Shawna Gatto, who was found guilty of depraved indifference murder and sentenced to 50 years in prison.

Ten-year-old Marissa Kennedy, living in Stockton Springs, was tortured, molested and continually abused for months before her body gave out and she died Feb. 25, 2018, while under state supervision. Her stepfather and mother, Julio and Sharon Carillo, were both found guilty of depraved indifference murder at separate trials and were sentenced, respectively, to 55 and 48 years in prison.

I attended all three trials and the sentencing hearings, and the evidence clearly showed that these deaths could have been prevented if proper supervision had been incorporated. And, of course, at that time we heard how the department would fix the problem.

Because of confidentiality laws, the public and media are not allowed to see the details of child abuse cases unless a child dies. Then we learn the brutal facts, as in Logan’s, Kendall’s and Marissa’s cases. Of course, by then it’s too late.

The Maine Child Welfare Services Ombudsman is a statutorily created independent nonprofit that provides neutral, objective assessments of concerns regarding practices of the Office of Child and Family Services. In their 2020 annual report, the ombudsman states that Child and Family Services still struggles in many areas, including not recognizing risks to children when the evidence is clear, not completing basic investigation practices and making but not monitoring safety plans, just to name a few concerns. It should be noted that caseworkers are oftentimes burdened with a high volume of cases and insufficient training.

In the trials in the murders of both Kendall and Marissa, testimonies revealed that if the caseworkers had made even minimal visits with proper follow-ups to the homes, the evidence of abuse would have been obvious.

On Friday, the Health and Human Services Committee will consider a bill I have submitted that would place the focus on Maine’s children. L.D. 1263 would transition the Office of Child and Family Services from the depths of the DHHS, the largest and most complex agency in state government, creating a stand-alone agency and allowing for proper funding, more transparency and easy monitoring by the public, policymakers and media.

For those who are wary of this solution, other ideas are welcome, but we can’t wait until another child dies. When the next child death occurs because the system let them down, the last words we want to hear are, “This is terrible – but we’ll fix it.”

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