State lawmakers are considering a child welfare reform bill that would require the state Office of Child and Family Services to report to the Government Oversight Committee, the only legislative panel that meets year round and has subpoena powers.

Under the bill, the committee would create a working group to monitor family services office policies and practices even after the Legislature adjourns. Bill supporters say state lawmakers in the past have struggled to find the time to properly investigate what they say is a secretive agency.

“For what seems like a lifetime I’ve watched OCFS under four administrations move too slowly sometimes, and oftentimes even regress, in fixing a broken system,” said bill sponsor Sen. Bill Diamond, D-Cumberland, who has served more than two decades in the State House.

“My frustration centers on knowing full well that if we don’t address this obvious problem soon there will be more child deaths that even a reasonable person could look at and see could have been prevented,” he said.

The bill, L.D. 1834, is one of several being considered by lawmakers this spring in response to a record-breaking number of child deaths in 2021. Last year, 30 Maine children were killed or died from abuse, neglect or in households that had prior contact with child welfare.

“You may be wondering if this oversight is really necessary – it is,” said Tonya DiMillo, a consultant who focuses on youth issues and recently served as chair of the board for Long Creek Youth Development Center in South Portland.


“We need additional oversight because well intentioned people and systems can lose sight,” said DiMillo. “In the wake of such an extraordinary number of child deaths and child murders, I am concerned that OCFS may have lost its focus.”

The committee held hearings on two other reform bills Tuesday, including one, L.D. 393, to allocate $2.5 million a year to beef up family reunification programs, and another, L.D. 1825, to establish a maximum caseload for child protective workers, as well as a cap on work and driving hours.

The health and human services committee will work on these bills in the coming weeks. Members asked legislative staff to find out if other states require direct legislative oversight of child protection services or have established workload caps for child welfare caseworkers.

The caseload bill, introduced by Rep. Colleen Madigan, D-Waterville, would address some persistent staffing challenges that put vulnerable children at risk, an issue that was raised in an independent review issued last fall by a state-hired consultant. Overnight and weekend calls were singled out.

Office of Child and Family Services Director Todd Landry said it could be dangerous to put absolute caps on any aspect of a caseworker’s job. A child in danger of abuse or neglect demands the immediate attention of the nearest qualified caseworker available, he said.

High caseload counts and staffing shortages should be addressed through the budget, Landry said.

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 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. Lawmakers like Diamond have questioned the state’s emphasis on reunification.

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