July 26, 2021
The ongoing work to improve the child welfare system includes collaborating with the Legislature to pursue law changes that help keep children and families healthy and safe. Even during the COVID-19 pandemic, Governor Mills signed into law nearly a dozen bills, in addition to a biennial and supplemental budget that included more than $17 million in additional General Funds to improve Maine’s child welfare system.
Bills proposed by the Maine Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), passed by the Legislature, and signed into law by Governor Mills include (but are not limited to):
- LD 58: This new law allows the Office of Child and Family Services (OCFS) greater access to investigative records for alleged crimes to better inform child safety decision-making. This is an important tool in ensuring OCFS has all available information about where a child can be most safe and healthy.
- LD 837: This new law, among other changes, enables OCFS to intervene in situations involving truancy when it is the result of neglect by the caregiver.
- LD 778: This new law will improve OCFS’ ability to accept electronic reports of suspected abuse and neglect as well as expand the types of reporters allowed to submit reports electronically to include school personnel. Facilitating timely and easily accessible reporting improves our communities’ ability to report concerns about children.
The Administration also supported bills or amendments introduced by legislators that have become law, including:
- LD 606: Sponsored by Representative Patty Hymanson, this new law codifies DHHS’s informal practice to have a written policy for information-sharing with community partners.
- LD 497: Sponsored by Representative Colleen Madigan, this new law improves Legislative involvement and oversight in the implementation of the Family First Prevention Services Act, which is expected to start this fall and will allow DHHS to draw federal funding to support evidence-based prevention services intended to keep children safe while preventing the need for them to enter state custody.
- LD 1408: Sponsored by Senator Bill Diamond, OCFS supported both the original version of this bill, and the amended version that was signed by the Governor that improves guardians’ ad litem initial and ongoing training related to domestic abuse and violence.
The Biennial Budget for State Fiscal Years 2022 and 2023 also included funds to continue to pay higher resource (foster) parent stipends for individuals who open their hearts and homes to foster children in State custody; replace contracted alternative response program workers with 15 child welfare caseworkers (while the Administration proposed the 15 workers start on July 1, 2022, the Legislature passed ten workers starting on January 1, 2022 and the remainder on July 1, 2023); complete implementation and refinement of the improved electronic case management system for child welfare, known as Katahdin; and increase children’s residential provider rates to accompany higher quality standards. OCFS has also received extra support from the Federal government during the pandemic for child welfare, including $2.8 million in relief dollars.
These legislative advances are accompanied by actions taken by OCFS using current resources and staff. These measures include (PDF) the safe and timely transitions of children out of state care, maintaining safety for children while in State care, improving child welfare caseworker retention, increasing the number of resource (foster) homes, and advancing policy improvements and training.