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LePage to toughen child services in wake of Kennedy case

AUGUSTA (NEWS CENTER Maine) — The death of 10-year-old Marissa Kennedy has sparked outrage for many, including Gov. Paul LePage, who says there are major holes in her case.

Gov. LePage said Thursday that he will implement executive orders to make sure children are better protected. He said the priority in every case needs to be what's best for each child.

"I want to do what's best for the children, and this is what the dialogue is that we are not having: What is best for the child? It should be reunification in some cases, other cases it may not be," LePage said.

Kennedy was beaten to death by her mother and stepfather last month after suffering months of abuse, according to police. Since her death, neighbors, school administrators and others have come forward saying they all reported concerns to authorities multiple times.

Marissa was never removed from her home.

"In this particular case, there's education involved, there's CDS, DHHS, law enforcement, there are so many different agencies involved and they were siloed – they don't share information," LePage said. "I think we need to start looking at ways to share information when people are at risk."

LePage said the Maine Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) is dealing with a lack of resources, employee burnout and outdated software. All possible factors into why Kennedy's case fell through the cracks, he said.

After reviewing Kennedy's case and others, LePage believes the state has a systemic problem — agencies either don't care or can't share information because of HIPA laws, holding back information that could be crucial to a child's safety.

LePage said caseworkers need an opportunity to debrief and follow up on cases, to fully assess each child's situation. He said he's already in the process of addressing major holes in the child protective services system and how it operates.

He did not say what exactly his executive orders will include.