Maine Takes Further Action to Improve Child Welfare System

May 9, 2024

The Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) continues to make progress on key priorities and efforts to implement the numerous laws and initiatives advanced by the 131st Legislature as it approaches adjournment.

Reduced vacancies: The child welfare vacancy rate has dropped by over 40 percent between January and May 2024, from 111 to 65. Governor Mills directed recruitment and retention payments for child welfare staff in her State of the State address which began in February.

Improved management: The Office of Child and Family Services (OCFS) has new leadership in Bobbi Johnson, a 30-year veteran in child protective services, who started in January and has already implemented a number of changes. Children’s behavioral health services is being transitioned to the Office of Behavioral Health to sharpen OCFS’s focus on child welfare while maintaining connections within the Department. The Office has joined the National Partnership for Child Safety, a quality improvement collaborative with a mission to improve child safety and prevent child maltreatment fatalities. An independent management audit was completed, distributed, and discussed with all staff. Consistent with the audit, OCFS plans to change its organizational structure to increase attention to management and staff support.

Launched the Child Safety and Family Well-Being Plan: In accordance with the plan's goal to keep children safe by keeping families strong, DHHS, in partnership with the Maine Child Welfare Action Network, has completed or begun nearly 30 initiatives, including:

  • Providing $335,000 to Maine Children’s Trust and the Maine Prevention Councils to identify opportunities to expand community-based spaces where families access low-barrier supports;
  • Awarding a $750,000 contract for a campaign and website to be launched in the summer of 2024 that communicates that challenges are normal, promotes help-seeking, and connects parents and caregivers to existing supports;
  • Convening a network of nine Community Collaboratives, partnerships that develop new ways to support families, to share best practices and develop a plan to expand statewide;
  • Hosting bimonthly prevention webinars in partnership with the Maine Children’s Trust.

Implemented Actions from the Long Session of the 131st Legislature: Beyond direct investments in the implementation of the Child Safety and Family Well-Being Plan, the biennial budget signed into law last July:

  • Provided nearly $12 million for foster care and adoption assistance and also provides an additional $2 million for foster care reimbursement rate increases;
  • Invested nearly $20 million in Federal and State funds for the next biennium to accelerate and intensify implementation of Maine’s comprehensive children’s behavioral health plan; and
  • Increased salaries by 10 percent for case aides that support child welfare staff.

And, OCFS has implemented other policy changes, including those from the first regular and first special sessions of the Legislature in 2023:

  • Partnering with impacted individuals to review and update the Resource Parent Bill of Rights (Resolve 2023, Ch. 62)
  • Extending free classes to parents involved in child protective services that provide information, resources, and peer support (PL 2023, Ch. 447)
  • Improving coordination among law enforcement, medical providers, and state officials during child welfare investigations (PL 2023, Ch. 146)
  • Enacting the Maine Indian Child Welfare Act to codify the rights of Tribal families in Maine law (PL 2023, Ch. 359)
  • Strengthening OCFS' ability to investigate alleged child abuse and neglect in out-of-home locations (PL 2023, Ch. 248)
  • Ensuring appropriate access to child protective records by parents and attorneys (PL 2023, Ch. 151)

Prepared to Implement Actions from the Short Session of the 131st Legislature: Since January, the Governor has signed into law three additional bills (PL 2023, Ch. 518, PL 2023, Ch. 542, and PL 2023, Ch. 567), directly improving child welfare services, not counting potential additional bills that may pass on May 10. Additionally, the supplemental budget:

  • Increased pay for child welfare staff by $4 million annually in recognition of the difficulty of their work;
  • Provided $1.3 million for targeted positions – such as legal aides and trainers – to expand teams for caseworkers so they can focus their time and energy on engagement with children and families, follow-up for services, investigations, and making sound decisions to protect children in need;
  • Supported children in state care with $1.5 million for room and board, clothing, activities, and respite; a new comprehensive foster child assessment service’ and support for high-fidelity wrap-around services that children in their communities and out of state custody; and
  • Appropriated $2 million to capitalize a Psychiatric Residential Treatment Facility to provide therapeutic treatment to children and youth with complicated behavioral health needs; $1 million for training in a model providing training to youth experiencing substance use disorder; and $500,000 to promote additional mental health services for children in rural Maine.

Engagement with the 131st Legislature: During 2023 and 2024 to date, OCFS has:

  • Provided six quarterly reports to the Health and Human Services (HHS) Committee;
  • Presented at ten meetings of the Government Oversight Committee;

The Department will continue to engage with partners to strengthen Maine families and promote health and safety for Maine children.