AUGUSTA, Maine — Maine legislators are demanding records from the Department of Health and Human Services, after a string of child deaths during the summer.
Representative Holly Stover said she believes those who work at DHHS want justice for victims, but the bipartisan legislative Government Oversight Committee she chairs is subpoenaing the department for the case files of two toddlers and two infants who died last summer, with a parent charged with murder in each case.
The Maine DHHS had initially refused to send the committee the files, citing confidentiality concerns.
"The overall review is to make sure that things are being done in the best way possible; that children in Maine are safe and being protected," Stover said.
Senator Bill Diamond sat on the committee for eight years and said the department lacked transparency.
"That all starts to add up, and so the concern is, look- you’ve got a major system that’s broken and kids are dying at record levels," he said. "We need to find out what’s going on. That’s why the committee needs to see those case files."
A DHHS spokesperson sent a statement to NEWS CENTER Maine on Wednesday. When reached on Thursday, they said no one from the department was available for an interview.
The Department has always offered to share these records with OPEGA because, according to the Attorney General's Office, Maine law authorizes the Department to do so, the statement said, describing the Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability. The Government Oversight Committee did not direct OPEGA to request them until today. Following today's vote by the Government Oversight Committee, the Department will share the requested documents with OPEGA as soon as possible. When the Department receives a subpoena from the Government Oversight Committee for these confidential records, the Department will work with the Attorney General’s Office to review it and respond appropriately. In the meantime, the Department will continue to advance the important work of improving the child welfare system to support Maine children and families.
Sen. Lisa Keim, Republican lead on the oversight committee, agreed with Stover that while good people work at the department, something needs to change.
"There’s not someone there who bears the blame for what’s going on, but there’s systemic failures and they’re very dramatic," she said. She added that, even though cases were built against child abusers, child protective details remain hidden.
"What comes out after a court date is, really, more of the criminal side of the records and not the child protective side," Keim said. "Those still remain confidential, even after this goes through the court system, and so, what we need to do as a committee is look behind the scenes at what’s going on."
Regardless of whether DHHS complies with the subpoena, the department will have already sent the files to OPEGA for review, who will provide a summary to the committee.
But the committee demands to see all of the files with their own eyes.