The only time that Maddox Williams knew any kind of stability in his brutally short life was when he was living with his grandmother. According to her, Maine’s policy of family reunification put him back in the custody of his mother and that is why he’s now dead.

“The system failed my grandson,” a tearful Victoria Vose of Warren told state lawmakers during a virtual hearing Friday.

Maddox Williams Photo from the #justiceformaddox GoFundMe page

Maddox was removed from his mother’s care when he was 3 months old after a 2-year-old sibling overdosed on methadone. He lived with his father and grandmother for two years. In February 2020, after his father was arrested, a judge returned Maddox to his mother.

“I was blindsided,” Vose told the Legislature’s Government Oversight Committee. “I personally asked the judge not to place him with her, as did his (court-appointed) guardian. I had minutes to hand him over to her, a stranger that had shown no interest in him.”

The family fought over who should get custody of Maddox over the next year. In March 2021, after his father was arrested again, a state child welfare worker forced Vose’s daughter, Mikayla, to hand Maddox over for return to his mother. That was the last time they saw him alive.

His mother, Jessica Williams, is now awaiting an October trial on charges of depraved indifference murder in his death. A coroner’s report detailed the 3-year-old’s injuries: a fractured spine, deep body bruises, and internal bleeding in his brain and abdomen.


“It’s just so difficult to understand,” Vose said of Maddox’s mother as committee members wiped away tears. “Someone with that much history, over a decade of history with (Maine Department of Health and Human Services), that they would reunite, reunite constantly. It’s so frustrating.”

The committee held Friday’s hearing as part of its investigation into Maine’s child welfare system.

Earlier this month, the Department of Health and Human Services reported that 25 children died in 2021 from abuse, neglect or in households that had prior involvement with the child protective system. That is the most deaths since the department began keeping track in 2007. That doesn’t include at least four deaths, including Maddox’s, that were classified as homicides and haven’t been added to the total.

Last week, Gov. Janet Mills announced an $8 million child welfare reform plan that would beef up the Child Welfare Ombudsman’s Office, hire caseworkers to fill staffing gaps on nights and weekends, and expand family supports to help address the underlying causes of abuse and neglect.


But the proposal appears to double down on the state’s policy of family reunification, not reverse it, by funneling money into family reunion training, family visit coaching and a parent mentorship program. Some lawmakers echoed Vose’s concern about the agency’s reunification focus.


“The department should be placing the child in the safest place, not necessarily pushing the envelope so it ends up being a reunification,” said Sen. Bill Diamond, D-Windham. “The first priority, it’s been proven time and time again, needs to be where the child will at least be safe.”

Diamond has worked on child welfare problems for years, under four different governors. He said the Office of Child and Family Services is plagued by a lack of transparency that continues to cause structural and cultural problems for the troubled agency.

When a child dies, it would be good to know if the office has a history with the child or family, he said.

A department spokeswoman said the agency will continue its ongoing commitment to program improvement. When she said, over Zoom, that the department was committed to transparency, Diamond looked away, put his head in his hand, then turned off his own camera for a few minutes.

Restrictions on being able to share child welfare information makes it difficult for even the agencies that jointly oversee, support and deliver the services of the Office of Child and Family Services to do their work, said Christine Alberi, Maine’s child welfare ombudsman.

Lawmakers have submitted several bills to strengthen oversight of the state’s child welfare program, and the state’s nonpartisan watchdog agency is investigating the system at lawmakers’ request. The investigation reports are being delivered to the government oversight committee.

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