Improving Maine's Child Welfare & Children's Behavioral Health System

Supporting children in foster care

Update: March 14, 2019

The Maine Department of Health and Human Services is comprehensively evaluating the child welfare system to identify how best to improve the lives of the children and families we serve. Integral to that effort is striving for permanent placements for children, to ensure stability and security as they grow.

On the path toward permanent placement, Maine’s network of foster families serves a critical role in protecting children and supporting them through often challenging transitions. Children enter Maine’s foster care system when their parents are unable to care for them and their circumstances have come to the attention of child welfare staff. Children in foster care may live with relatives, foster parents, or in group settings as a temporary arrangement.

The total number of licensed foster homes in Maine has decreased over the past 4-5 years. Meanwhile, we have seen a 27% increase in reports to the Child Protective Intake Hotline over the past year, resulting in a 25% increase in the number of families assigned for assessment and an increase in the number of children entering care. We detailed the Department’s recent steps to respond to these issues in our last update. Those include additional staff and phone system upgrades for the intake unit and upgrading to a new computer system to track child welfare’s work. The current system, Maine Automated Child Welfare Information System (MACWIS) is nearly 20 years old, and will be replaced with a new system to help ensure that children do not languish in our system. 

There is a need for foster homes that match the needs of youth in care. OCFS is actively working to increase placement resources for these youth, including recruiting foster families willing to accept placement of sibling groups, teens and youth with behavioral needs, and infants who are in the process of being reunified with their families. OCFS contracts with providers to recruit foster families and provide support to the families. As part of improvements the Department has undertaken as a result of LD 1923, passed in a special session of the 128th Legislature, we increased reimbursement rates for foster families starting last September.

OCFS has additionally changed its practices for safety planning, the process the Department uses to make an arrangement with a family that establishes how a child’s safety will be ensured. Now, children can be safety planned only when they can remain in the care and custody of their parents. Previously, children were safety planned into the care of relatives or other approved family supports without removing custody from the parents. With this change, children can still be placed with relatives or supports, but the Department takes custody of them to ensure their safety, assume legal responsibility for them, and allow the parents to begin the rehabilitation and reunification process which is overseen by the courts.  

OCFS aims to place children with kin whenever possible, as required by law.

These initiatives are among many that the Department is pursuing to better support Maine's children and families. We are committed to sharing our progress and look forward to further public participation as we strengthen the system of care for children in the state of Maine.

Anyone interested in becoming an adoptive or foster parent may visit www.maine.gov/dhhs/ocfs/cw/adoption or www.maine.gov/dhhs/ocfs/cw/fosterparenting.shtml .

Previously posted updates

  • March 5, 2019 Updated With comprehensive reviews of the system complete, reforms are under way to ensure the safety and wellbeing of Maine children