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Lawmakers: Watchdog report does not go far enough

"It's a shabby system we shouldn't be feeling good about. We shouldn't feel comfortable about. All we need to look at are these two little girls who were killed."

AUGUSTA (NEWS CENTER Maine) — Officials with the Maine Department of Health and Human Services are responding to a government watchdog report that criticized the agency's role in failing to protect two girls from horrific abuse.

Four-year-old Kendall Chick and 10-year-old Marissa Kennedy were murdered just months apart.

The Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability, known as OPEGA, faulted the Office of Child and Family Services for failing to follow policies and procedures in one of the cases.

In a written statement Commissioner Ricker Hamilton said he appreciated OPEGA's review of DHHS's role within Maine's child welfare system. He said through the agency's internal investigation, DHHS has "been able to identify areas in need of improvement, many of which are echoed in OPEGA's preliminary report."

► RELATED: DHHS report: 'Poor job performance and inadequate supervision' contributed to child deaths

"We are working hard at implementing a number of reforms aimed at improving the current system," he said.

The OPEGA report identified nearly a dozen areas for improvement, including more training for mandatory reporters to do a better job sharing information with teachers and law enforcement who may witness abuse first hand.

Director Beth Ashcroft briefed members of the Government Oversight Committee. The report cited poor job performance and inadequate supervision as factors in the cases of one of the two murdered children.

The watchdog groups recommended additional training for mandatory reporters, including police officers, school officials and health providers. Some mandatory reporters are concerned about making a false report against a parent or caretaker.

Child abuse cases increased 52 percent between 2008 and 2016. One lawmaker says the report gives him little comfort that children who are at risk will be protected.

The public will be able to weigh in at a public hearing scheduled for 9 a.m. next Thursday at the Cross Building in Augusta.

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