On February 7, Gov. Janet Mills unveiled an $8 million proposal intended to strengthen Maine’s child welfare system that will be included in her supplemental budget. Mills has said she will unveil her full budget proposal in the days following her State of the State address on February 10.
Mills’ supplemental budget proposal will recommend adding 16 caseworkers and three casework supervisors to the Office of Child and Family Services (OCFS). The additional caseworkers will be dedicated to “night and weekend shifts.” She will also propose adding additional support staff to the OCFS and creating a new regional associate director whose role will be “dedicated to supporting policy and training.”
Mills also revealed her supplemental budget proposal will add safety-staff to case reviews where there is ongoing harm to a child. Previously, this was done after the death of a child.
According to Mills’ press office, the move towards a science-safety model “was deployed after a review of Maine’s child welfare system by Casey Family Programs and attempts to shift the paradigm away from reactionary responses to ongoing policy improvements based on better understanding how complex systems operate.”
Mills’ staffing proposals are for $3 million, which includes federal funds.
Mills’ supplemental budget proposal will also request extending the Homebuilders’ Program, a program that provides in-home support to families involved with child welfare services and at risk of having their children removed and put into state custody. The proposal will extend the program to provide support for families during reunification.
Mills will request $2.2 million for this initiative, which includes matching federal payments.
The supplemental budget proposal will also include a $2 million request for an initiative to expand family visit coaching. According to the Mills administration, the family visit coaching program is “intended to facilitate contact between parents and children when children are in State custody after being removed from a home.”
Mills’ final supplemental budget request related to child welfare will seek $200,000 to create a mentorship initiative that employs parents who were in the child welfare system as children. The initiative will “develop an evidence-based parent mentor program to encourage parents to constructively engage with the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, advise on the development and policy, and assist in training new caseworkers.”
On January 27, the Maine Department of Health and Human Services posted a quarterly update of child fatality statistics for 2021. The data includes child deaths due to homicide, or in cases where the OCFS has found abuse or neglect associated with deaths, or in cases with child protective history.
With the update, the number of child deaths in Maine in 2021 rose to 25, making it the deadliest year since 2007.