Government oversight committee meets to address flaws in Maine’s child welfare system

At a July 20 meeting, the Government Oversight Committee (GOC) met and discussed further its ongoing investigation into the Office of Child and Family Services and Protective Services from childhood.

After about three hours of testimony from lawmakers and members of the public who interacted with the state’s child welfare system, which has extensively documented the alleged failures, the committee turned to reports from the State.

Evident Change, the vendor used by OCFS to provide the assessments social workers use to help make certain decisions in child protection cases, walked committee members through the process it uses to create its assessments.

According to Dierdre O’Connor, associate director of strategic initiatives for the company, Maine uses six of the company’s assessments for admissions assessments, security assessments, risk assessments, case planning, reunification and risk assessment, used to determine if families will have future interaction with the CPS within a given time frame after a case is closed.

O’Connor informed committee members on how social workers complete risk and safety assessments while working on a case and work with families to understand decisions made, in addition to how the process used to make recommendations in The framework of a risk assessment uses actuarial science and data from past cases to inform levels of risk.

O’Connor received several questions from committee members regarding the assessments, which were first developed in 2016, and how they have adjusted to incorporate new information from more recent CPS cases.

Senator Richard Bennett (R-Oxford) also questioned whether the data used in the tools was biased because it is based on a self-selected sample, and asked whether Evident Change and child protection offices within Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) can do everything to combat this by being more proactive in communities and interacting with potential cases.

O’Connor said the risk assessment tool is not a general tool and is only valid for families currently under investigation. She also said the possibility of having another tool to identify families who would benefit from preventive services is being considered by other jurisdictions and that her company is involved in conversations to develop one.

Bobbi Johnson, associate director of child protection, also said the OCFS is actively involved in identifying gaps in its current services and how to fill them, but does not currently have an active tool. that can be used for evaluation.

The committee then considered a note provided by DHHS and OCFS, which provided updated quarterly hiring data and information on admission screening and CPS response assessments, risk assessment, and reunification assessment .

According to DHHS, there are currently approximately 50 vacant social worker positions, including 16 social worker positions that were added as part of the last enacted budget.

The committee also debated how to move forward with an attempt to obtain confidential records from child protective services related to child deaths since May 2021.

A note Assistant Attorney General Ariel Gannon to OCFS Director Todd Landry on June 15 noted that federal and state disclosure laws likely allow disclosure of information to the Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability (OPEGA), which conducts investigations on behalf of the committee, but not directly to the government of China.

OPEGA analyst Scott Farwell advised the committee that state law requires DHHS to release child death information after the conclusion of relevant criminal court proceedings and that the GOC may be able to to avoid a possible legal battle to force the DHHS to hand over the files pending the conclusion of the ongoing trials.

After debate, the committee voted unanimously to send a letter to DHHS requesting access to child death records, which they would review in executive session to avoid privacy concerns. The committee also asked the letter to state that, while they are open to discussion with the department, they will continue to move forward in their attempts to obtain the files if DHHS does not cooperate.

The committee also voted unanimously to order OPEGA to conduct research on family reunification and produce an assessment report to be delivered in January 2023.

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