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Mills announces proposals that aim to strengthen child welfare services

Gov. Janet Mills has unveiled legislation and several budget initiatives that aim to improve the state's child welfare system. The proposals come after the state saw a record 25 fatalities last year among Maine children whose families had a history of involvement with child protective services or where abuse or neglect was associated with the death.

The legislation is intended to strengthen Maine's Child Welfare Ombudsman office, which provides oversight of the state's child protective services. Last summer, two board members resigned from the office after they became exasperated over what they described as the state ignoring their concerns about Maine's child welfare system. Democratic Sen. Ned Claxton, who is among a bipartisan group of lawmakers sponsoring Mills' proposal, says the bill would give the Ombudsman office more independence, including the authority to hire additional staff and increasing the Ombudsman's appointment from one year to five.

"This is the first bill we've seen so far that makes the appointment of an Ombudsman a five year process," Claxton says. "I think that's important to try to continue the effort to keep any politics out of the office and out of this issue."

Mills is also seeking funding in the supplemental budget to improve child welfare services. She wants to hire 16 caseworkers and three supervisors to work weekend and night shifts. She also wants funding to implement new initiatives, which include family coaching, a parent mentor program, and a so-called Homebuilders program that supports reunification between children and families.

The Governor's office says all combined, the proposals total $8 million in funding.