Improving Transparency Around Child Fatalities in Maine

September 1, 2021

The Maine Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) considers the recent child deaths a call to action. In addition to partnering with Casey Family Programs to improve child safety in Maine, we are committed to unprecedented transparency around these events.

Today, we are publicly posting, for the first time, information on certain child fatalities from 2007 to June of 2021. The file is available here (PDF). This is not a comprehensive list of all child deaths in Maine. Instead, it includes reports of child deaths that:

  • Are due to homicide as determined by the Medical Examiner, regardless of whether there was child protective history with the family;
  • Have Office of Child and Family Service (OCFS) findings of abuse and/or neglect associated with the death, regardless of whether there was child protective history with the family or whether there are law enforcement findings; or
  • Had a child protective history before or during the child’s life, even when the cause of death was natural, accidental, suicide, or undetermined.

This information allows for greater public understanding and awareness of these deaths, while protecting privacy as required under state and federal law. It includes the child’s age, gender, month and year of death, any abuse or neglect findings related to the death, the manner of death, and summary child protective history, if any.

Some information has been redacted, at the direction of the Office of the Maine Attorney General, because the manner of death is still listed as pending by the Medical Examiner’s office, and/or because there is a pending criminal proceeding. As such, the child deaths in June 2021 that DHHS previously announced are not included in this list due to ongoing criminal investigations and/or proceedings. Those that fall under the criteria noted above would be added at an appropriate time upon advice of the Office of the Maine Attorney General.

DHHS additionally today posted aggregate information on child fatalities on the OCFS Data, Reports, and Initiatives site. The number of child fatalities reported to OCFS annually varies from 6 to 19, with an average of 10 from 2007 to 2020. Homicides account for 20 percent of those fatalities, less than the 25 percent that resulted from co-sleeping during the same period of time. In 2019, the Department launched a safe sleep initiative to tackle the highest cause of child deaths reported to OCFS, in addition to its child welfare improvements. While more work remains to be done, trends suggest progress on safe sleep to date.

Child Fatalities Reported to the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Child and Family Services
Year Maine Medical Examiner Determined Cause of Death Total
Homicide Accident Sudden Unexplained Infant Death (SUID) Co-sleeping (included when noted with “Accident” or “SUID”) Other (Natural, Undetermined, Suicide)
2007 2 - 3 1 1 7
2008 4 - 3 - - 7
2009 1 2 1 2 2 8
2010 2 2 6 2 - 12
2011 3 1 1 1 2 8
2012 3 - - 3 - 6
2013 1 2 1 2 5 11
2014 8 3 1 - 3 15
2015 1 2 - 2 3 8
2016 - 1 1 4 3 9
2017 2 2 - 5 3 12
2018 1 3 1 4 1 10
2019 2 4 - 6 7 19
2020 - 4 - 3 4 11
Total 2007-2020 30 26 18 35 34 143
Percent of Total 20% 18% 13% 25% 24% 100%

OFCS plans to update the aggregated information on child fatalities quarterly beginning in October on its Data, Reports, and Initiatives site. This is the first time the State of Maine has committed to this timely public posting of such information.

Additionally, OFCS has updated its child fatality notification process to include timely notification of any child fatality reported to OCFS to the Child Welfare Ombudsman. The Ombudsman plays an important role in oversight and this information sharing will facilitate that work.

These steps build on OCFS’ work to improve transparency to date, including launching and updating monthly a public child welfare dashboard which shows metrics including the number of children in state custody, success in permanency, and safety while in foster care, among other metrics.

Our hope is that these recent steps will assist the public, policy makers, and others in better understanding trends, and participating in our shared responsibility to keep Maine children healthy and safe.