January 27, 2022
The Maine Department of Health and Human Services today published a quarterly update of data on child fatalities in the state.
Today’s update represents the first quarterly update since September, when the Department first committed to quarterly public posting of this aggregate information to allow for greater public understanding and awareness of these deaths.
Of note, this is not a comprehensive list of all child deaths in Maine. It includes 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.
Some child deaths, which may be known to the public and the Department, are not included in this list due to ongoing criminal investigations and/or proceedings. Those that fall under the criteria noted above will be added at an appropriate time upon advice of the Office of the Maine Attorney General. The list also does not include child fatalities where there is no Departmental or law enforcement involvement.
The number of child fatalities reported annually to the Office of Child and Family Services (OCFS) from 2007-2021 varies from 6 to 25, with an average of approximately 11 deaths per year.
In 2021, the rate of accidental deaths, such as motor vehicle accidents, fires and drownings, was significantly higher than in previous years, representing 40 percent of all fatalities. The rate of deaths in the “other category,” which includes suicides, also rose, representing 28 percent of all deaths. Current data indicates homicides represent 17 percent of all fatalities between 2007-2021, accidents represent 21 percent, co-sleeping represents 18 percent, and sudden unexplained infant death represents 16 percent.
This information allows for greater transparency around these deaths, while protecting privacy as required under state and federal law.
OCFS additionally notifies the Child Welfare Ombudsman of any child fatality reported to OCFS.
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.
OCFS has also improved its data collection through the successful launch this month of Katahdin, a new Comprehensive Child Welfare Information System (CCWIS) that replaces the decades-old system used by staff to document cases. The new system will streamline work, reduce paper record keeping, and eliminate time-consuming tasks such as scanning documents. Katahdin launched on January 18, 2021, on time and on budget, following the involvement of frontline staff in all stages of the system’s development.