Child welfare workers will receive the first of three hiring/retention bonuses this month that Gov. Janet Mills promised during her State of the State address.

The initial payments, scheduled to go out Feb. 21, are among the initiatives the Department of Health and Human Services is undertaking to help recruit and retain staffers in its Office of Child and Family Services.

The three one-time, lump sum payments of $1,000 are aimed at attracting prospective employees to work for OCFS, and keeping workers from leaving.

“These payments to child welfare staff and the proposals in the supplemental budget reflect the Governor’s focus on strengthening the child welfare workforce and improving services for children and families,” DHHS Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew said. “We look forward to working with the Legislature on its ideas for supporting safety and preventing child abuse and neglect in the first place.”

Mills said the financial incentives are part of her administration’s efforts to improve the state’s child welfare system by addressing heavy caseloads and other problems encountered by child welfare staff. The state also plans to increase pay through a job classification study and hire more legal aides to help with paperwork.

The OCFS has come under fire following the deaths of several children in Maine.


Todd Landry, the former director of OCFS, resigned in November amid growing criticism and pressure from lawmakers seeking changes in the office.

Lawmakers had been scrutinizing Landry’s leadership over the past two years, and that attention intensified when several caseworkers testified publicly about a lack of support from upper management and other problems within the agency.

The department’s own federally mandated report, released in September 2023, indicated that the state was getting worse at protecting children from abuse and neglect despite investments and changes within the office. Caseworkers have often borne the brunt of parental anger and public blame when tragedies occur.

During a first-ever hearing with child protection workers in November, staffers told lawmakers that they work in a broken system.

Five current and former caseworkers painted a picture of a central office that is out of touch with front-line workers, who are increasingly stretched thin and overworked because of severe staffing shortages and high turnover.

They told lawmakers they had safety concerns when responding alone to calls involving suspected domestic violence and drug use, and said they’d been threatened by angry parents. They talked about being assaulted, kicked and spit on by children with significant behavior issues stemming from suspected abuse. And they talked about being stalked by family members after removing children from a home.


Under the payment plan announced Thursday, a worker in the Child Welfare Division who stays with the agency from Jan. 1 through the end of the year, stands to receive up to $3,000, according to Jackie Farwell, a spokesperson for the DHHS.

The first payment of $1,000 is for eligible employees who work in the division from Jan. 1 to Feb. 10. The second payment is for employees who work or are hired in the division from Feb. 11 through March 31. The third covers employees who work or are hired between April 1 and Sept. 30. More than 20 job classifications are eligible.

“Eligible employees who are employed with the Division throughout all three time periods would receive $3,000,” Farwell said in an email.

DHHS on Thursday also released more details about initiatives to improve child safety in the governor’s upcoming supplemental budget. That budget will include $6.8 million to provide support for child welfare workers and services for children in care.

The plan would allocate $1.3 million to support services for children in state custody; $1.4 million to hire trainers and aides to support child welfare caseworkers; and would earmark $4 million to reclassify and upgrade the jobs of child welfare caseworkers and supervisors to ensure they are being properly compensated.

Related Headlines

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: