AUGUSTA, Maine — The Maine Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) announced Thursday that it has asked Casey Family Programs – a national organization dedicated to improving child safety and the wellbeing of children – to assist the department in its investigation of four child deaths that have occurred in June 2021.
The deaths happened on June 20 in Stockton Springs, on June 17 in Temple, on June 6 in Old Town, and on June 1 in Brewer. All four of the children were four years old or younger.
Maine DHHS said in a release Thursday that it is working with Casey Family Programs to investigate 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.
“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,” Maine DHHS Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew said in Thursday's release. “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.”
As is standard policy, Maine DHHS is conducting its own review of the deaths. According to Maine DHHS, "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."
Maine DHHS said 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, and Maine DHHS said it will publicly release any recommended changes. According to Maine DHHS, 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, according to Maine DHHS.
Additionally, in response to emerging state and national trends, Maine DHHS said it will intensify its health education campaigns in response to pandemic-related challenges. The department said it 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.
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“The death of a child is a tragic loss for that child’s family, their community, and our state as a whole,” Todd Landry, director of the Office of Child and Family Services, said. “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.”
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, according to its website. The organization says it 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; and
- Promote a shared responsibility for ensuring the wellbeing of every child and family across the nation\
Anyone concerned about child abuse or neglect should call DHHS’s 24-hour hotline at 1-800-452-1999. Calls may be made anonymously.