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New nonprofit looks to reform Maine's child welfare

Walk a Mile in Their Shoes is a nonprofit created by former state senator Bill Diamond to prevent the abuse of children in state custody.

AUGUSTA, Maine — Victoria Vose is the paternal grandmother of Maddox Williams, who was killed by his mother in June 2021

"He was beautiful. He was three years old. He had blue eyes. He was a toe head. He was just so sweet and well-behaved and very funny," Vose said, remembering her grandson.

She added that she can't protect her grandson now, but she wants to prevent another family with a child in state custody from going through the same thing.

"If something was done with Logan Marr with Marissa Kennedy with Kendall Chick… Maddox maybe would be alive today," Vose said.

All of those kids were killed by their caretakers who were designated by the state's child welfare system.

Now, Vose is standing with former state senator Bill Diamond and his new nonprofit, Walk a Mile in Their Shoes.

Diamond said in a press conference he wants to work with the Department of Health and Human Services and the Office of Child and Family Services to keep kids in Maine safe. This comes after Maine recorded a record number of child deaths at 25 deaths, many of them homicides in 2021.

And the Child Welfare Ombudsman report released just last week, which said there are serious and persistent issues within the department.

"I really hope that the Office of Child and Family Services under the jurisdiction of the Maine Department of Health and Human Services will be willing to work with this group," Senator Jeff Timberlake, R-Androscoggin, said.

Walk a Mile in Their Shoes isn't just lawmakers and family members of victims – but also people who work with the department regularly, like Melanie Blair, a foster mom.

Blair said she hopes the state, "allows us the ability to offer the department boots on the ground insight and solutions to the problems we are seeing and experiencing first hand. However, the feedback we do share falls on deaf ears, have unintended consequences, and goes nowhere."

Less than an hour after former state senator Bill Diamond unveiled his nonprofit, Maine Senate Republicans held a press conference of their own. The goal is the same, to separate DHHS and the Office of Child and Family Services.

"What's so shocking about the recent ombudsman report is not what's in it… which is shocking, but really that it's more of the same," Sen. Lisa Keim, R-Oxford, said.

Maine Senate Republicans are planning to introduce a number of child welfare bills this session.

Some of the goals of these bills include improving current programs to support healthy families, forcing DHHS and the Office of Child and Family Services to be more transparent with the Legislature, and separating DHHS and OCFS, a bill proposed by Diamond last session that passed by a 2/3 majority in the Senate and failed in the House.

Senator Jeff Timberlake, R-Androscoggin, who plans to work with Diamond on his new nonprofit, said it's essentially the same bill, and he hopes to get it passed this time around.

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