Last year, a record number of children died in the state of Maine.

An investigation initiated by the Legislature’s Government Oversight Committee after a string of Maine children’s deaths has uncovered information concerning the failure of the Office of Child and Family Services to meet federal child safety policy and procedural standards, according to Sen. Bill Diamond. HumsterAnna/

The summer of 2021, in particular, was an unprecedented time of heart-wrenching tragedy, serving as proof that Maine’s child protection system is severely broken.

In June 2021, three children died, and their alleged assailants were all charged with depraved-indifference murder or manslaughter. In August and November, two more children died, both in alleged murders.

In one of those cases, family members pleaded strongly with the Maine Department of Health and Human Services to not place 3-year-old Maddox Williams back with his biological mother in unsafe conditions. Both the department and the Office of Child and Family Services endorsed and pursued the placement against their wishes. Just three months after that decision, Maddox Williams died from horrible traumas to his body. His biological mother was charged with depraved-indifference murder.

Out of frustration at continuous failure by OCFS to protect children under its supervision, two highly respected members of the Child Welfare Ombudsman Board of Directors resigned.

The Child Welfare Ombudsman, an independent and neutral overseer of child welfare policies at OCFS, investigates complaints and concerns regarding child protection issues. The ombudsman has repeatedly proclaimed that OCFS continues to struggle with decisions regarding the proper safety of children under its supervision.


However, after all these devastating tragedies and with the recognition of the blighted culture that persists within that agency, a glimmer of hope has emerged. The Legislature’s Government Oversight Committee, a watchdog committee, voted unanimously in July 2021 to initiate a yearlong investigation into the practices of OCFS. This investigation has already uncovered startling revelations concerning OCFS’ failure to meet even the minimal federal standards of child safety policies and procedures.

For example, when comparing OCFS’ child safety practices with federal standards, the investigation revealed that in the category of child risk and safety assessment, only 13.8 percent of the procedures examined were rated as strong and only 34.9 percent of the reviewed cases accurately assessed all risk and safety concerns of children. The investigation also showed that only 14 percent of reviewed cases in which safety concerns were present had an appropriate safety plan developed.

The ongoing investigation into the practices of OCFS, coupled with the heightened awareness of these problems by the public, offers an unprecedented opportunity to institute meaningful reform within OCFS.

If we’re going to protect children in state care, we have to fix the broken system, change the resistant culture within that agency and, if necessary, change the management.

The Government Oversight Committee, which has a reputation of unwavering independent professionalism, could create a forum structured to hear from those who have worked directly with OCFS for years: foster parents, families of children who died while in state care, child care providers, parents in the process of adoption and former DHHS employees.

They are the experts; they know firsthand the changes that need to be made to the system. They can and should be a valuable resource. They need to be allowed to share their unique experiences in order to make a difference.

I’ve been in this battle with different DHHS bureaucracies for 21 years. Time is running out, but we have a reason for hope if we all work together.

Let’s not allow 2022 to be another record-breaking year of child deaths in Maine.

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