Maine DHHS chief acknowledges problems at child protection agency after director resignation
Maine Department of Health and Human Services chief Jeanne Lambrew acknowledged Wednesday that there are persistent problems within the child protective services division and said the recent departure of its director brings an opportunity to fix them.
Lambrew's testimony before lawmakers on the Government Oversight Committee was her first since embattled director Todd Landry resigned his post last week.
Landry had faced withering scrutiny and criticism amid the high-profile deaths of four children under state supervision in 2021, as well as reports from the legislature's watchdog agency showing ongoing problems at the agency he's led since 2019.
Lambrew said that a national search to replace Landry is underway and that the new director will be chosen to fix systemic and cultural problems, including swamped caseworkers caught in a loop of low morale and high turnover.
"The thing that bothers me a lot is that our own caseworkers don't feel supported," Lambrew said. "That bothers acting director (Bobbi Johnson), it bothers me, it bothers all of us."
While some lawmakers were heartened by Lambrew's comments, others noted that caseworker complaints were not new.
And some blamed Lambrew for supporting Landry, who had often reassured lawmakers that issues were being addressed.
Members of the oversight committee openly questioned his leadership last month when an internal review showed the agency was falling short of the national standard for preventing repeat cases of abuse and neglect. Those questions intensified amid complaints from caseworkers who compared the agency to a war zone.
The committee is still reviewing the agency and formulating a slate of recommendations, an effort that Lambrew said her department supports.
Bobbi Johnson, who joined the agency as a caseworker 28 years ago, has been named acting director.