ROCKLAND — Child advocates gathered Thursday morning outside the Rockland offices of the Maine Department of Health and Human Services to call on lawmakers to investigate the death of 3-year-old Maddox Williams.

In attendance at the event were the child’s paternal grandmother as well as an aunt of the young boy.

Maddox Williams died June 20 after his mother brought him from a home in Stockton Springs to Waldo General Hospital in Belfast, police have said. An autopsy revealed the child had multiple bruises and abrasions – some partially healed – as well as missing teeth, internal bleeding in his abdomen and a fractured spine.

Maddox Williams Photo from the #justiceformaddox GoFundMe page

The child’s mother, Jessica Williams, 35, who also goes by the name Jessica Trefethen, was arrested June 23. She has been charged with depraved indifference murder in connection with her son’s death.

Superior Court Justice Robert Murray last week set bail at $150,000 cash. Her next court appearance is scheduled for Oct. 28, although that may change if she is indicted by a grand jury prior to that hearing.

Although DHHS cannot comment on specific cases while criminal charges are pending, court documents revealed that the department was involved at least twice during Maddox Williams’ short life.

Jessica Gleason of Skowhegan organized the “Maddox Matters” event Thursday outside the DHHS offices in Rockland. Gleason is a licensed foster parent and said she has experienced the failure of the system when attempting to adopt a foster child.

“This is not us against DHHS,” she said. “This is us for the children and in support of changes that will help workers make absolute decisions based on evidence-based research and without gut reactions. Supervisors need to enter a home and visit parents before making a decision, especially a decision that does not align with the caseworker that has been in the homes and visiting parents.”

DHHS did announce last week that it has asked an outside agency, Casey Family Programs, to assist with an investigation and evaluation of the death of Williams and three other young children who died in Maine over the past month. In two of the other cases, parents have been charged with manslaughter.

“This is a call to action,” Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew said last week. “In addition to our own review and ongoing work, we requested Casey Family Programs bring to bear its wealth of experience and national perspective to help us, and we’re bolstering StrengthenME to ensure Maine families have access to the support they need to cope with the significant stresses of the pandemic.”

StrengthenME is an outreach and assistance program offered to families who are at risk.

Gleason, however, said foster parents are afraid to speak up due to fear of losing their child placements, and caseworkers are silenced for fear of losing their jobs.

Jessica William appears in court in Belfast on June 25 on a murder charge stemming from the death of her 3-year-old son, Maddox. Bangor Daily News via Associated Press

“We speak for those that want to but cannot,” she said.

Gleason said the state has enough information, with a 2018 Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability report and a 2020 ombudsmen’s annual report, to make needed changes.

“We do not need to wait months to re-create the wheel. We need to identify the supervisors and program managers that are not following policies and guidelines. We need to change the systemic culture within DHHS,” she said.

Gleason said there are many great caseworkers and supervisors.

“Many of their hearts are broken with ours. They can’t sleep, they are sick to their stomachs, and they too want change,” she said.

Gleason and others who attended the gathering Thursday asked that OPEGA, the Legislature’s oversight agency, review Maddox’s death to come up with changes to prevent further deaths among children.

DHHS already has undergone several changes over the last several years following two previous high-profile deaths – 4-year-old Kendall Chick in late 2017 and 10-year-old Marissa Kennedy in early 2018. Those reforms include hiring new staff, increasing pay to retain existing staff and improving training for caseworkers.

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