Let it first be said that the people most let down by the failures of Maine’s Child Development Services agency, a quasi-independent state body under the supervision of the Department of Education, are children with disabilities aged between 0 and 6 years.

It is wholly unacceptable for the state to have failed these kids, vulnerable as they are and at a time during which they stand to gain – or lose – more ground than at any other point in their lives. And the state has failed them, repeatedly, for years.

The latest update on the disastrous state of CDS came to us in the form of a legislative hearing last Tuesday. The Education and Cultural Affairs Committee reportedly “grilled” Maine Department of Education Commissioner Pender Makin over staffing shortages, an as-yet unclear policy ruling out overtime by employees and the steeply declining outcomes among the infants, toddlers and children CDS is charged with supporting.

Last week, lawmakers grilled Maine Department of Education Commissioner Pender Makin over the state’s failure to support children with disabilities from birth until 6 years old. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal, file

Grill as legislators might have, Makin didn’t have a lot of information to part with.

The update offered at the committee meeting did not enter into any specifics. Makin gestured to vague structural challenges and, under the circumstances, somewhat boldly described one element of the agency’s services – for children aged between 0 and 3 years – as doing “quite well.”

On top of that, the commissioner declined to answer questions on the agency’s most stinging controversy in recent weeks: the 96% vote of no confidence by a majority of CDS employees in Roberta Lucas, the agency’s director. Lucas did not attend the Tuesday committee meeting.


In light of the scope of the vote and the ongoing dissatisfaction with the lack of transparency by CDS, this is not a line of questioning that should have been sidestepped. The allegations against Lucas are as varied as they are grave. The union representing agency workers who came out against her tenure feels Lucas’ leadership is directly responsible for long wait times for services, onerous case loads, a toxic work environment and “nepotism” in hiring.

More than a month after the vote was taken, the union’s calls – to replace Lucas; to establish a hiring committee for a new director that includes workers and families of children; and to create an oversight board for CDS – should be heard and acted on without delay. It is not reasonable to expect relations that have deteriorated to a 96% no-confidence vote to be repaired.

Attempts to dissolve CDS have been mounted many times over the years; supporters of its dissolution have suggested that the work would be better brought fully under the Department of Education.

It’s certainly tempting to slash and burn at a time like this. But a major change in governance stands to make a major difference, and should be invested in heavily, implemented thoroughly and given a chance. Dissolution can’t be looked at as some kind of magic fix. If CDS cannot find and retain qualified staff, how are school districts and other providers expected to?

Testifying against a bill to “reorganize the provision” of CDS services in 2022, Westbrook parent and educator Amie Earley put it simply: “So many children and families slip through the cracks as it stands. A transition of this magnitude without precise and specific details around choice, budget and access would be incredibly detrimental to both families and providers. … A rushed timeline with an incomplete plan serves no one.”

The plan is still incomplete. In fact, there is no plan right now.


The overt lack of urgency in this most recent process is particularly vexing. A report from the Department of Education about the agency’s operations, with a deadline of Feb. 15, will reportedly inform the steps taken to restructure the organization. The department has previously expressed its belief that “CDS is a crucial program,” one it will “continue efforts to bolster and improve CDS.”

Evidence of that is in incredibly short supply at the moment. Mere weeks from the date by which that report needs to be submitted, department leaders don’t appear to have so much as a skeletal analysis or preliminary recommendation to share with the public.

Until then? Remaining CDS employees are left to limp along in the most challenging circumstances. More than 60 positions at the agency are open. In one particularly egregious example in the 2022 fiscal year, one caseworker reportedly worked with three times the number of children they were expected to manage: 243 children.

And what about those children throughout Maine with special needs? They are being forced to wait for or forgo evaluation altogether, being denied services they need and are entitled to. They lose out, and we all lose out as a result.

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