Maine DHHS takes action in response to recent child deaths

Fri, 06/25/2021 - 8:30am

    AUGUSTA— The Maine Department of Health and Human Services announced Thursday it is taking action following the deaths of four young children in Maine over the past month.

    The Department has asked Casey Family Programs, a national leader in improving child safety and the wellbeing of children, to assist the Department in its investigation of these deaths, to evaluate existing child safety policies in the context of the deaths, and to offer interim policy recommendations that could be implemented by the State of Maine to support child and family safety.

    The four children, who were all four years or younger, died within the past month from accidents or serious injuries. The deaths occurred on June 20 in Stockton Springs, on June 17 in Temple, on June 6 in Old Town, and on June 1 in Brewer.

    “The death of a child is a tragic loss for that child’s family, their community, and our state as a whole,” said Todd Landry, Director of the Office of Child and Family Services. “It’s our responsibility as a state and as a society to do everything we can to help children grow up safe and ensure they have the love and attention they need. With the expert assistance of Casey Family Programs, we’ll learn all we can from these recent deaths and continue our work to protect Maine children and support their families.”

    Additionally, in response to emerging state and national trends, the Department will intensify its health education campaigns in response to pandemic-related challenges.

    Despite progress in turning the tide on the pandemic, evidence from Maine and across the country continues to suggest that people are experiencing heightened mental health and substance use issues, including parents and children, according to a news release.

    Among other actions, the Department will extend and broaden its StrengthenME campaign, which offers free stress management and resiliency resources to anyone in Maine experiencing stress reactions to the pandemic, and is encouraging anyone seeking help to call (207) 221-8198 from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., seven days a week.

    “These deaths, like all involving children, are heartbreaking and deeply concerning. Every child in Maine deserves to have the opportunity to grow up healthy, to get a good education, and to live a productive, happy, and meaningful life. When children die, they are robbed of these opportunities and we lose the light, love, and potential of these children,” said Jeanne Lambrew, Commissioner of the Maine Department of Health and Human Services. “This is a call to action. In addition to our own review and ongoing work, we requested Casey Family Programs bring to bear its wealth of experience and national perspective to help us, and we’re bolstering StrengthenME to ensure Maine families have access to the support they need to cope with the significant stresses of the pandemic.”

    Founded in 1966, Casey Family Programs works in all 50 states, Washington D.C., Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and with tribal nations across North America to influence long-lasting improvements to the well-being of children, families and the communities where they live.

    The organization focuses on four specific goals, including to:

    Safely reduce the need for foster care in the United States by 50 percent

    Demonstrate how every child can have a safe, supportive and permanent family

    Support more effective public investments in strengthening families to keep children safely in their own homes and communities

    Promote a shared responsibility for ensuring the wellbeing of every child and family across the nation

    As is standard policy, the Department is conducting its own review of child deaths. Casey Family Programs will assist the Department with its investigation, bringing to bear its national perspective by using a nationally recognized model to improve child safety. Maine’s Child Welfare Services Ombudsman has agreed to participate in this process as well.

    The work by Casey Family Programs will include an evaluation of whether changes in the short run are needed in Maine’s Child & Family Services Strategic Plan. The Department will publicly release any recommended changes to the Plan.

    The Plan, adopted in 2019 following a comprehensive evaluation by the Department’s Office of Child and Family Services (OCFS) and other stakeholders, includes improvements in policies and practices to ensure child safety; expanded staffing and training; increased focus on family wellbeing; and a sharper focus on permanency, which means limiting the time a child is in a temporary placement. OCFS has added about 60 additional staff since the plan’s implementation.

    Furthermore, Maine is on target to implement the Federal Family First Prevention Services Act this fall, which will expand prevention services to help keep children and families healthy and safe and prevent the need for children to come into the care and custody of the State.

    Anyone concerned about child abuse or neglect should call DHHS’ 24-hour hotline at 1-800-452-1999. Calls may be made anonymously.