The death of a child, for any reason, reverberates through that family, community and across our state. We mourn these losses deeply.

As chairs, respectively, of the Committees on Education and Health and Human Services, we also have a responsibility to ensure children and families are safe and have the resources they need to thrive. Maine people deserve to know what we are doing to meet this responsibility.

Our work to restore child welfare and family supportive systems, after years of neglect, began in 2019. With public input, the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Child and Family Services implemented a strategic plan. With support from the Legislature, the office increased child welfare caseworker positions by 29 percent, increased foster homes by 31 percent and replaced outdated technology.

However, the COVID-19 pandemic hit individuals and families hard. The pandemic contributed to a record-high number of drug overdose deaths, the highest number of homicides in over 30 years and a spike in mental health crises. The year 2021 recorded the highest number of deaths of children in families with past or present involvement with child protective services.

This was a call to action. Reviews from independent, national experts resulted in recommendations in October 2021. In November 2021, as committee chairs, we outlined our approach to tackling this challenge. And, in February 2022, the governor called for legislation and funding to strengthen the child welfare system to improve child safety.

The resulting actions included a historic $30 million investment and new laws, including bipartisan passage of the governor’s bill to bolster the capacity of the Maine Child Welfare Ombudsman and Rep. Meyer’s bill to increase services to families involved with child protection.


The work continues. The biennial budget includes nearly $15 million for child welfare. And we are closely reviewing recommendations for action from the ombudsman, the Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability and other experts.

That said, our efforts cannot be solely focused on the state child protection system. The key to keeping kids safe is to keep families strong. When parents can get support when they need it, their children are more likely to experience safety and stability.

The proposed budget invests $223 million in services for children and youth, including quality child care and education. It also includes a historic $237 million for behavioral health care, including in substance use disorder and mental health treatment.

We cannot wait for legislative action alone. Substance use disorder is a factor in 53 percent of child removals. In response, the state will use existing funds to embed clinical substance use disorder experts in child welfare districts, and to train peer recovery coaches to support parents in their recovery.

In partnership with the attorney general, the governor is also exploring the expansion of Family Recovery Courts: a model working in Bangor, Lewiston and Augusta that provides critical support to those with substance use disorder whose children are in state custody.

In addition to filling service gaps, we must improve connections that support families. For example, the department will soon hire a coordinator to integrate prevention efforts and services for families across agencies and with community partners.

Perhaps most importantly, we are partnering with the department and the Maine Child Welfare Action Network to act on their recommendation to develop a statewide plan to prevent child abuse and neglect. Access to good-paying jobs, child care and substance use and mental health treatment can all improve conditions for families and prevent the need for child welfare intervention. In the months ahead, we will seek input from community members, providers, caseworkers and other partners on this child safety and family wellbeing plan.

These four actions – improving systems, services, connections and prevention – will help us fulfill our enduring commitment: to keep children safe by keeping families strong.

Anyone who needs help can call 211 to find resources or 1-800-452-1999 to report suspected child abuse or neglect in the state of Maine.

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