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Investigation into Maine child deaths yields recommendations

Health and Human Services Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew said the agency is evaluating seven recommendations that focused heavily on coordination and communication.

PORTLAND, Maine — An independent organization that investigated the deaths of five children in a single month issued a series of recommendations Friday, and a state lawmaker quickly criticized them for not going far enough.

Casey Family Services recommended that Maine Department of Health and Human Services establish joint protocols with law enforcement, hospitals and child welfare staff when there is suspected neglect or abuse.

Its recommendations also included streamlining the duties of child welfare workers and ensuring timetables are compatible with their workload.

Health and Human Services Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew said the agency is evaluating seven recommendations that focused heavily on coordination and communication.

“We remain committed to learning all we can from these tragic deaths and taking action to help Maine children grow up safe, healthy and loved,” Lambrew said in a statement.

But Sen. Bill Diamond, D-Windham, was underwhelmed by the report, saying it appears “to take a soft approach to urgent, severe issues.”

“Time and time again, we have seen recommendations come and go, only to have children continue to perish at the hands of their abusers. I am worried that once again, we are stuck in the cycle where children die, reports get issued, but no meaningful change occurs,” he said.

The fatal beating of 3-year-old Maddox Williams in Stockton Springs drew statewide attention after his mother was charged with his death.

It was later divulged that the Maine DHHS had been involved at least a couple of times with Maddox’s parents before he died from blunt force trauma on June 20.

Maddox was one of five children whose deaths in the month of June were reviewed by Casey Family Services.

The report by Casey Family Services, a national child welfare research organization, which partnered with an outfit called Collaborative Safety, was based on available data and an analysis of both human factors and systems that were in place.

The report didn’t get into specific failures surrounding the deaths but noted ongoing staffing problems tied to the pandemic and staff turnover, as well as concerns about cooperation among parties and agencies.

It said solving the problems related to child safety can be complex, and that the benefit of hindsight tends to oversimplify solutions.

“It is understood that there are no quick fixes within the child welfare system and careful thought and planning must be considered prior to their implementation,” the report said.