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After Child Deaths, DHHS Asks Outside Agency To Examine State Policies

Darren Fishell
Bangor Daily News/file

After the deaths of four young children, the Maine Department of Health and Human Services is asking an outside agency to help investigate and review the state's child safety policies.

Since June 1, four Maine children — from six weeks to four years old — have died from serious injuries or accidents. In three of those cases, the deaths were allegedly at the hands of their parents.

That includes an incident in Stockton Springs on Sunday, when police say three-year-old Maddox Williams died at a hospital in Belfast after being brought there by his mother and grandmother. On Tuesday, his mother, Jessica Williams, was charged with murder in connection with the death.

DHHS Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew says that in the wake of those deaths, the department is asking Casey Family Programs — a national group focused on child welfare and well-being — to investigate the deaths and inspect the department's own policies and recommend changes.

"Having these four children die in the space of a month, means that we want a quick review to see what, if anything, we need to adjust in our strategy. To make sure that we're on track to keep kids safe," she says.

And Lambrew says that with Maine seeing an uptick in mental health challenges, and a record number of overdose deaths, her agency is also conducting a broad review of its policies around child protective services and public health.

DHHS notes that it has made several changes over the past few years, including the addition of about 60 caseworkers since 2019. Despite that, a report from January found that the agency still needs more than 40 more caseworkers in order to handle its caseload.

Lambrew says DHHS is still looking to bring in more workers, and is also working to implement a new plan — the federal Family First Preventions Services Act — that's intended to work with families to reduce the need for children to come into state custody.

The department says that it will publicly release any changes recommended by Casey Family Programs

Updated: June 25, 2021 at 4:45 PM EDT
This post has been updated with additional context and comments from Maine DHHS Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew.