Maine’s Department of Health and Human Services said Friday it is sharing child protective service case files with the legislature’s investigative office but not with lawmakers.

Responding to a Sept. 21 vote by the Government Oversight Committee to subpoena records involving the cases of children who have died from abuse or neglect, DHHS said it has been advised by the Office of the Maine Attorney General that sharing files with lawmakers would violate confidentiality laws, particularly when there are criminal cases pending.

The committee also voted separately last month to direct the Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability to request the records from DHHS.

DHHS agreed to send the files to OPEGA, an independent and nonpolitical agency, which will then share findings of its review with committee members.

“The department and the Office of the Attorney General rapidly processed and are securely delivering the four requested case files to the office created by the Legislature for review of such sensitive records,” DHHS Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew said in a statement. “We look forward to OPEGA’s thorough and expert evaluation, as well as to resolution of any remaining questions regarding access to these confidential records.

“There is no higher priority for the department than advancing the vital work of protecting Maine children from abuse and neglect and ensuring they can live safe, stable and healthy lives.”


The files in question are related to four child deaths that occurred in late spring and summer 2021.

Jaden Harding was found dead in Brewer on June 1, 2021. He was just 6 weeks old. His father, Ronald Harding, is accused of shaking his son to death and has been charged with manslaughter.

Five days later, 3-year-old Hailey Goding was found dead in Old Town. Police arrested her mother, Hillary Goding, and charged her with manslaughter.

Then on June 20, 3-year-old Maddox Williams of Stockton Springs died after being taken to a local hospital with what prosecutors say were “inflicted injuries.” His mother, Jessica Trefethen, has been charged with depraved indifference murder and is on trial in Belfast this week.

And Reginald Melvin of Milo was indicted on a murder charge in the death of his month-old son Sylus Melvin in August 2021.

Senate Republican Leader Jeffrey Timberlake of Turner, who sits on the Government Oversight Committee, said he was disappointed in the decision by DHHS to deny lawmakers access the files.


“It’s not what we asked for,” he said. “We already knew they would give it to OPEGA. We want to see it for ourselves with our own eyes and opinions.”

Timberlake said committee members will have a decision to make at their next meeting on Oct. 19.

“What we’ll have to decide, ultimately, is whether we take them to court,” he said. “That hasn’t happened before, that I know of at least. It’s a big move, but drastic times call for drastic measures.”

Sen. Lisa Keim of Dixfield, the ranking Republican on the committee, agreed with Timberlake that the fight should be brought before a judge.

“Right now, there is a disagreement with the law and that’s when you’re supposed to bring things to court,” she said. “If we accept the (attorney general’s) opinion on this, we’re allowing an arbitrary opinion rather than a law to set this precedent that creates a wall around what GOC is able to do. So, I think we need to challenge.”

Keim said she believes DHHS is “running out the clock” until the November election, which will bring in a slate of new lawmakers and a different committee makeup.


Rep. Holly Stover of Boothbay, the Democratic co-chair of the oversight committee, was less critical of the administration of Gov. Janet Mills, a fellow Democrat.

“From my perspective as chair, I think it’s great news that the records have been delivered and are in the hands of OPEGA,” she said. “And when we meet in a week and a half, we’ll have an opportunity to talk about what to do next.”

Asked whether she thinks the committee should take the matter to court, Stover was unsure.

“I think it would be a big step and one we’d want to consider carefully,” she said.

One concern, she said, was that allowing lawmakers access to sensitive case files could politicize the process even more.

“Everyone wants justice for these children,” Stover said. “Our task is to figure out the best and most efficient way to complete our work.”


The state’s child protective system has been subject to continued scrutiny for years, most recently following a series of child deaths in 2021.

In all, 29 children died last year and at least 27 had some sort of child protective history before or during their lives, according to state data, which is not a comprehensive list of all child deaths. That doesn’t include five deaths where criminal cases have not been resolved. So far in 2022, seven deaths of children who had child protective history have been tracked by DHHS.

The government oversight committee already has authorized OPEGA to conduct a thorough review of the state’s system, but more recently members said the agency needs better access to case files.

Since 2018, following two high-profile deaths, the state has made many changes, including hiring more staff, increasing pay and improving training. Additionally, lawmakers supported a measure from Mills to strengthen the office of the Child Welfare Services Ombudsman, which is tasked with investigating complaints against child protective services.

But the pandemic and the ongoing opioid epidemic have contributed to put many more children at risk of abuse or neglect.

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