More than two decades ago, I stood in a court room far away from Maine, about to have an experience that would change my life. I was there as a volunteer guardian ad litem, a court-appointed person who advocates for the best interests of children as their cases proceed before the courts. I was new to the role, but my charge then, as it is now, was to help ensure a safe and loving home for children – in this instance, for two sets of siblings.

Their cases, like most in the child welfare system, were complicated. Ultimately, one set of siblings was safely reunified with their parents while the other was adopted into a loving home.

The experience taught me a very simple but powerful lesson: One person who cares can make the difference in a child’s life. After that, I decided to pursue a career in child welfare. Today, I serve as the director of the Office of Child and Family Services for Maine.

Like me, our dedicated staff care deeply about Maine’s children – that is why they do this difficult work day in and day out. The reality is that our office gets involved when problems in families have escalated. We use evidence, training, skills and systems to do our best to protect children and support families facing challenges and crises.

That dedication to children also means that we share in the anger and deep sadness that families and communities feel when a child dies. We look in the mirror and ask ourselves: Why did this happen? Was there anything we could have done to prevent it? And we commit to working harder and better to secure safe and loving homes for the 2,500 children in state custody and to improve supports for the thousands more with whom we are involved.

You likely have read about child welfare cases recently, and many of the stories report that our office cannot comment.


We would like to publicly discuss specific examples of our work with children and families to bring into full view the complexity of cases and decisions made by caseworkers, the court system, or others so that the public may understand the important context of every case.

However, strict federal and state laws protect information regarding child welfare cases – for good reason. These children’s well-being and lives could be permanently damaged if their names and circumstances are released.  Additionally, we cannot talk about cases while charges are pending because such information could be used by defendants to try to shift blame to escape justice, something we could never condone.

With that being said, after a trial, verdict and sentencing, we have made extra efforts to inform the Maine public about our work. We choose to release memos on any OCFS prior involvement, regardless of how long ago that may have been, to improve public understanding so we may learn together from those tragedies.

In addition, we have published a public dashboard of child fatalities, going beyond minimum reporting requirements to comprehensively report incidents of child abuse and neglect. And, in the wake of the tragic deaths of 2021, we implemented a safety science process for the purpose of learning from tragedies to pinpoint problems and fix them.

Working with the Legislature, we have made system, staffing and training improvements. We are intensifying our focus on helping children whose caregivers have substance use disorders. We are also constantly working to strengthen our communication with other partners in child safety: schools, law enforcement, courts and communities.

This work can seem remote in the painful aftermath of a child’s death. Other measures of how the child welfare system is performing can feel irrelevant when families and communities are grieving. I understand that, and we hear those who question if more can be done to prevent tragedies. We will continue to ask that question of ourselves in each and every case and to take all the steps within our power to learn from these tragedies.

Looking forward, we not only want to intervene when child abuse occurs, we want to prevent it to begin with. To that end, in close partnership with the Legislature and child advocates across Maine, we developed and are implementing a Child Safety and Family Wellbeing Plan. Its purpose is to look upstream to those early moments in a family’s history where some assistance by and in their community can prevent a downward spiral resulting in child abuse.

The death of a child devastates me, as it does everyone in my office. In the face of such tragedy, what keeps me going is remembering that one person can make the difference in the life of a child.

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