DHHS work far from done when it comes to protecting children

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After the deaths of four young children in Maine in the space of a few weeks, there is a lot of anger and frustration towards the Maine Department of Health and Human Services.

Earlier this week, two members of the Maine Child Welfare Ombudsman Board announced that they had left the panel because they felt the ombudsman, who is responsible for overseeing the state’s child welfare system, was not heard by DHHS.

“Over time, the ombudsman’s reports to council have taken on a strange familiarity, and the 2019 and Annual reports 2020 The Maine legislature continued to expose the same systemic security issues that led to these unnecessary child deaths, ”wrote Ally Keppel and Allie McCormack in explanation of their decision to step down from the board.

While we share the concerns and frustrations over the recent child deaths, it is unclear what involvement DHHS had – or should have had – in at least three of the cases.

This underscores the need for a thorough review of these cases, with a focus on what could have been done differently – by many entities, including the DHHS – to prevent them. These reviews are ongoing and if gaps in child protection protection are identified, urgent changes need to be made.

In the Old Town, Hillary Goding was charged with manslaughter in the death of her 3-year-old daughter, Hailey Anne Goding. Hailey had fentanyl in her system and was exposed to drug paraphernalia that Goding used to ingest what she believed to be heroin at her Center Street apartment in Old Town on June 3, according to a police report. recently released.

Last week, the ministry announced that it strengthen its efforts to encourage the safe storage prescription drugs and other substances to keep them away from children.

In Brewer, Ronald Harding was charged with manslaughter last month after his 6 week old baby was shaken to death.

In Temple, a child died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound in mid-June. Lawmakers this session passed a bill criminalizing the failure to secure loaded weapons in the presence of children under the age of 16.

DHHS did not say if it was involved in these families.

In the case that has rightly gained the most attention, Jessica Williams was arrested for murder in June following the death of her 3-year-old son, Maddox Williams, in Stockton Springs. Police have told Maine DHHS at least twice that Maddox Williams was neglected by his father, who allegedly brought the child with him during an apartment burglary, before the child’s death. The agency had placed Maddox with her mother, Jessica Williams, after her father’s arrest in March, according to a police affidavit.

Maddox suffered horrific injuries before he died, according to the affidavit.

The Maine DHHS said last month it would call on Casey Family Programs, a national organization focused on reducing the need for foster care, to review the four cases. Last week, the Legislative Assembly’s Government Oversight Committee called for the state Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability, which reviews government programs and activities, are involved in that review, which the department and Casey have agreed to do. The Child Protection Ombudsman will also participate and a report is expected in October.

DHHS has taken many steps in recent years, such as hiring additional child welfare workers and securing federal funding for work to strengthen families, to improve child safety in Maine. This work is far from complete and continuous review and improvement is essential. This work requires going beyond bureaucratic measures to ensure that real and lasting changes in practice and policy are made, where appropriate, to improve the well-being of the most vulnerable children and families in the world. Maine.

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