An independent review of the state’s handling of a child protection case leading up to the killing of 3-year-old Maddox Williams found that caseworkers didn’t make any “unsound” decisions but cited several missed opportunities, including not trying to interview a child who might have witnessed an alleged instance of domestic violence.

Jessica Trefethen listens as Assistant Attorney General John Risler addresses jurors in Waldo County Superior Court in Belfast on October 5. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

The report from the state’s watchdog agency, the Office of Program Evaluation and Accountability, also highlighted the state’s decision not to fight in court to maintain custody over the child after the father, Andrew Williams, was arrested for operating under the influence.

The state’s decision effectively gave custody to Maddox Williams’ mother, Jessica Trefethen, who was not involved in the first two years of her son’s life, rather than his maternal grandmother, with whom the child had bonded, the report said. Trefethen was later convicted of depraved indifference murder in Maddox’s death.

The report, presented Friday to the Legislature’s Government Oversight Committee, illustrates the complicated case of a family that had Child Protective Services involvement beginning in 2013 and struggled with mental health and substance use. The cases involved several children fathered by three different men, overlapping protective cases, a divorce proceeding and a custody battle.

“This case is perhaps an extreme example of the range of complexities and complications that the CPS system must assess and triage resulting from the actions of parents and others,” the report states.

It’s the second of four reviews of child deaths that occurred two summers ago, prompting a fresh round of inquiries and investigations into the state’s child welfare system. Reports on the final two children, 6-week-old Jaden Harding of Brewer and 1-month-old Sylus Melvin of Milo, will be released after the cases work their way through the courts.


The committee already has reviewed the department’s actions leading up to the death of Hailey Goding, a 3-year-old girl from Old Town who died of an overdose after ingesting her mother’s drugs. The mother, Hillary Goding, waited 20 hours before seeking medical help for her daughter. She pleaded guilty to manslaughter and was sentenced to 19 years in prison.

In Goding’s case, OPEGA found that the Office of Child and Family Services investigated every lead and followed state law and policies as best it could, including conducting onsite visits and interviews in the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic. But the office could not develop the evidence needed to make a court claim that the child’s health was in danger.

Maddox Williams Photo from the #justiceformaddox GoFundMe page

The report into Maddox Williams’ death generally supported the decisions made by caseworkers, who are bound by state law to do everything in their power to keep families together and reunite families after a child has been removed because of abuse or neglect.

Like the previous report, it highlights the high legal thresholds caseworkers must meet to remove children, the difficulty of collecting needed evidence, and the need to provide additional support to families struggling with poverty, substance use disorder, and mental health challenges.

OPEGA Director Peter Schleck said there is a disconnect between what members of the public think caseworkers can and should do compared to what they actually have the authority to do under state law.

“There is a limited authority to come into these situations on a case-by-case, very fact-specific basis, and make a quick determination, as soon as reasonably possible, that there is safe or unsafe condition and then respond to it accordingly,” Schleck said.



Sen. Jill Duson, D-Portland, said the committee needs to begin focusing on possible solutions to those upstream challenges, as they have been described, rather than simply reviewing detailed timelines leading up to a tragedy.

“This is the piece of the work that gets me into the room,” Duson said of providing more support to families. “If we don’t do that piece of the work, I can’t figure out the value in dragging all these details into the public and the tragedies for these families. As empathetic as we may be, and as angry as the facts make us, if we don’t follow through to policy discussion … then we’re just making a spectacle of somebody else’s tragedy.”

The report states that Maddox Williams was born prematurely in January 2018 and had tested positive for methadone, which his mother had been prescribed to treat substance use disorder. At the time, his parents had separated but were still married.

Trefethen had a CPS history dating to 2013, based on a report of a substance-exposed infant. A similar report was received when her second child was born in 2015.

After Trefethen reunited with her former long-term partner, Jason Trefethen, the state received a report in 2017 that the couple was abusing their children and dealing drugs out of the home, prompting the state to open an investigation. The following year, one of the children ingested liquid methadone, and the family failed to seek medical treatment for 30 minutes.


That prompted the state to seek a protection order and take temporary custody of the Trefethen children. As a result of that case, Andrew Williams gained custody of Maddox Williams. However, Williams was arrested during a home burglary on Jan. 28, 2020, while under the influence of substances and with his son present.

He lost custody after he was arrested six weeks later and charged with operating under the influence of drugs with Maddox and another child in the vehicle.

By then, the Trefethens were making progress on their plan to regain custody of their children. Jessica Trefethen challenged the state’s protection order and sought custody of Maddox. The state dropped the case after determining that it could not prove that Trefethen was an immediate threat since she was already having a trial reunification with her other children and couldn’t prove neglect because she was in court seeking custody.

That did not sit well with Sen. Craig Hickman, D-Winthrop, who leads the Government Oversight Committee. Hickman noted that Trefethen had not been involved in her son’s life up until that point.

“I do believe that Maddox’s mother was found guilty of depraved indifference and to me that’s what Page 11 says already,” Hickman said, referring to the report.

Committee members also focused on an investigation into an alleged instance of domestic violence on April 8, 2021. Jessica Trefethen called police to report that her partner hit her and threatened to kill her, the report said. Jason Threfethen was arrested and charged with domestic violence assault, and the state opened another investigation.



But Jessica Trefethen would not allow a caseworker to interview the children the following day, though the caseworker was able to see Maddox Williams as he slept inside the house.

The report notes that the caseworker did not reach out to a third man, the father of the oldest child, who witnessed the incident, to seek an interview with that child.

Citing news reports, Schleck, the OPEGA director, said that child would later testify in court to seeing his mother strike Maddox Williams while on a family trip in New Hampshire only days before.

Schleck, however, warned that requesting an interview might not have produced a different result.

“We do not endeavor to claim that had this parent been contacted that the outcome for Maddox would have changed,” Schleck said. “The father could have refused to cooperate or allow his child to be interviewed by the caseworker. Even if they had cooperated, there is no guarantee that either would have disclosed any concerns to the caseworker. Regardless, not attempting to contact Ms. Trefethen’s eldest child’s father represents a missed opportunity.”


Todd Landry, the director of the Office of Child and Family Services, said that prior to the domestic violence incident, the father had refused requests from caseworkers to interview him and his child. But Landry agreed that staff should have at least tried.

“We acknowledge that the father of Ms. Trefethen’s oldest child should have been contacted and interviewed,” Landry said. “We recognized this in our review.”

The issue of staffing also was raised.

The number of authorized caseworkers has grown steadily since 2018, but the department has not been able to fill the positions as fast as they have been creating them.

According to a report released this month by the Department of Health and Human Services, caseworker staffing levels have increased from 351 in 2018 to 445 in 2022. But it has only been able to fill 63 of the 94 positions created, leading to a near doubling of the vacancy rate of 7.4% to 12.8%, or 57 unfilled positions.

However, the state is making progress on new positions created by Gov. Janet Mills to address after-hours staffing. To date, 14 of the 16 new positions and the three additional supervisor positions have been filled.

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