We expect the holidays to be a peaceful and joyful time for all. It was especially jarring, then, when news broke of the sudden death of a 3-year-old Edgecomb child, the latest in a series of child deaths in Maine. Why do these deaths keep occurring? What can we do to prevent them? How can we ensure all Maine children are safe and can reach their full potential?

In 2020, Maine had the highest rates of child maltreatment in the country.

Between 2017 and 2021, there was a 30% increase in Maine children experiencing substantiated child abuse or neglect. More children entered foster care in 2021, with 2,220 children in state custody, the highest number since 2006. Evident in the increasing numbers of child protective cases are disparities in child maltreatment by race and geography, with rates more than five times higher in some counties compared to others.

Preventing future tragedies starts with reducing child abuse and neglect, beginning with investing in families with children.

Many parents are burdened with economic stressors, unmet mental health needs and substance use disorders, challenges exacerbated during the pandemic. Almost half (47%) of Maine families assessed by child protective services in 2020 were single-parent households struggling to meet their basic needs. While parental substance use is a primary risk factor in maltreatment cases, behavioral and substance use treatment is often inaccessible or delayed by waitlists.

There has been some progress to strengthen the state child welfare agency, including increasing the number of caseworkers and improving advisory and oversight, yet this part of the child welfare system remains overburdened. Investment to strengthen the broader system of supports and services for families must be an essential part of improvements, toward a framework of child and family health and well-being.


We have the opportunity now to make these changes. The Maine Child Welfare Action Network is a group of organizations and individuals working together to align, strengthen and sustain efforts to ensure the safety and well-being of all Maine children, youth and families. We are proud to serve as members of the leadership team for this coalition and to share the following recommendations to strengthen families and the state’s child protective system:

• The state and Legislature should invest in concrete and economic supports for families as a means of reducing and preventing child maltreatment. Continued investments in pre-K, housing, child care and substance use prevention and treatment, in part addressed in the governor’s proposed 2023 budget, are central to this effort.

• The state should assume responsibility for leading the development, implementation and oversight of a child maltreatment prevention plan. Maine currently has no statewide plan or coordinated system for preventing child and neglect, and investments and access to services are limited.

• The state, Legislature and outside philanthropy should invest in rebuilding infrastructure for cross system collaboration to support families. Multiple studies of child protection in Maine point to the need for better coordination among key entities in the system.

• The Legislature and state should work together to build the optimal structure for state child welfare leadership and caseworker capacity.

• The state and Legislature should ensure equity is at the center of all system improvement efforts to address any disparities by poverty, race, geography, immigration status, gender, sexual identity and disability.

• Child Welfare Advisory Oversight entities should continue to coordinate with the Legislature to provide recommendations for systems improvement.

The system responsible for protecting and promoting the well-being of children includes many partners: families, community service providers, schools, health care, philanthropy and local and state leaders. It’s time to work together across sectors and on all levels, to develop comprehensive planning and coordinated investments in a continuum of supports and services to ensure child safety and to strengthen families across every community in Maine.

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