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Two Members From Maine's Child Welfare Board Resign After Recent Child Deaths

Darren Fishell
Bangor Daily News/file

Two members of Maine's Child Welfare Ombudsman Board have resigned over the state's handling of child welfare cases. Their resignations come after the deaths of five children in June. Board members say the Ombudsman's office has consistently raised concerns about Child Protective Services, but they are ignored.

Board member Allie McCormack served on the board since 2014. He says both he and former President Allison Keppel were the longest serving members of what he calls a 'useless endeavor'

"We thought we'd resign and sort of communicate our exasperation," McCormack says.

McCormack is exasperated because he says the Department of Health and Human Services ignores concerns raised by the Child Welfare Ombudsman, which provides oversight of Maine's Child Protective Services.

"The sad thing is from a board member, you sit at a board, the Ombudsman who is communicating with the legislature in writing about these systemic concerns is telling you about how concerned she is about where the Department is going, and you have actual board communications where you're basically waiting for the next kid to die, and then it happens. Not only one, but two. Not only two, but three. Not only three, but potentially four," McCormack says.

And when children die, says McCormack, DHHS is not required by law to inform the Ombudsman's office. Instead, the Ombudsman finds out through news reports or unofficial channels. McCormack says the Department uses confidentiality as a shield against accountability, and that both the Ombudsman's office and the Board should have the ability to communicate with members of the state's Health and Human Services Committee about concerns with the agency. Lastly, he says, the Ombudsman is put in the awkward position of having to ask the administration it evaluates to fund the office each year.

"Just not a constructive avenue to provide the free-flowing appropriate information that needs to be had," McCormack says.

Department of Health and Human Services spokesperson Jackie Farwell says the Department will continue to provide the Ombudsman with as much information as possible, and that state and federal confidentiality laws limit the information they can provide. Farwell says DHHS welcomes the Ombudsman’s contribution to efforts to improve the lives of Maine children and families.