Republicans Silent on Watchdog Report Showing Systemic Failure at Maine Child Welfare Agency

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A report published last week by the Maine Child Welfare Ombudsman, an independent government watchdog, revealed widespread failures at the state child welfare agency, including several deficiencies with investigations and an inability of state workers to recognize when children were in dangerous situations.

What should have been a bombshell report, disrupting politics as usual in Maine and causing serious consternation on the part of Maine’s political leaders, has instead all but disappeared from news feeds just days after it was published.

Gov. Janet Mills’ silence on the report’s devastating findings is understandable, in a cold political kind of way, considering she and her Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew bear responsibility, more than any other government officials, for the failures after four years in control of the agency and practically all of state government.

[RELATED: Maine Media, Mills MIA on Devastating Child Welfare Report…]

For the same reason — again, in a cold political kind of way — no one expects Democrats in the Legislature to risk their careers by asking what Mills plans to do about the failures, sometimes deadly, of state interventions nominally aimed at protecting children. After all, standing up for abused children the state can’t or won’t protect is too high a risk to take when you need the governor’s support for a bill or two.

There’s no public indication Mills, Lambrew, or any Democratic lawmakers have even read the report, and the Maine media seem content to refrain from asking any uncomfortable questions.

Yet even Maine’s Republican elected officials, who are traditionally critical of failed government programs, have shown no sign of having read the report. If they have, they’re keeping quiet about it — just like Mills, Lambrew, Democratic leaders, and all the editorial writers at the state’s newspapers.

[RELATED: Maine Child Welfare Agency Reports Systemic, Deadly Failures in 2022…]

A spokesman for the House Republicans said he wasn’t aware of any statement that the House Republicans have issued as a caucus, nor was he familiar with any pol’s individual statement. The Maine House Republicans’ social media accounts also have not mentioned the report.

The Maine Senate Republicans have likewise been silent on the issue. Though the caucuses official Facebook account has posted some random pictures — “Scenes of the Session” — from the State House, there appears to be no statement regarding the report, and certainly no call to action. At the caucuses’ website, the most recent press release is dated Nov. 10.

The Republican radio address this past weekend mostly praised the $473 million spending package the governor shoved down Republicans’ throats, failing to criticize any aspect of state government, other than to say the bill was “not perfect.”

The report, which was prepared by Maine Child Welfare Ombudsman Christine E. Alberi, examined 85 cases in which a complaint was filed stemming for actions taken, or not taken, by Maine’s Office of Child and Family Services.

Within that sample of OCFS activities, Alberi found that more than half of the case had substantial issues.

Here are some of the quotes that should place reforming OCFS at the top of any to-do list for politicians, regardless of their political affiliations:

“[T]here are cases and situations where the Department had sufficient facts to determine that the child was unsafe but did not recognize the risk to the children and act accordingly.”

Translation: Government employees whose job it is to keep children safe put children in unsafe environments or failed to remove them from unsafe environments.

“Investigations in our case specific reviews had two main issues: 1) not enough investigative activities were performed to determine the safety of children and 2) enough information was collected, but risk to the child or children was not recognized and decisive action was not taken to protect the children.”

Translation: State investigators did not investigate properly, and even when they did, state workers failed to act on the information.

“There were multiple cases this year where the history alone indicated a high level of risk, but staff did not have the history at the outset of the investigation or during the course of the investigation.”

Translation: State workers let bureaucratic paperwork failures endanger children.

“As with investigation, there are two components of reunification cases that have shown practice deficits: 1) the ongoing assessments of reunification cases, including assessment of trial placements, sometimes lacks the appropriate investigatory steps to ensure that the correct decision is being made at the end of the case, and 2) even if enough information is collected throughout the case, a decision might be made to reunify a child when it is clear that the jeopardy to the child has not been alleviated.”

Translation: Investigators didn’t investigate well enough to determine that a home was safe for a child before placing that child back into the home. And even when they did obtain enough information, they sometimes knowingly placed a child in harms way.

“In other words, the risk to the child is not recognized.”

Translation: State workers at Maine’s child welfare agency have not, or cannot, perform the basic task their job requires.

The full report contains an even longer list of failures. State workers did not use basic investigatory practices, nor did they follow basic best practices for unification. The report doesn’t really point fingers at root causes, other than an oblique reference to resources. And, if politicians in Augusta continue on their current trajectory, no one will ever have an answer as to why OCFS is failing so miserably.

But to really understand the nature of the problem, you have to read all the way to page 12 of the report, a daunting task for politicians and journalists alike, I’m sure. At page 12, the report offers case summaries of a few investigations. The contents of those case summaries should shock the senses of anyone who reads them, but if the public statements of elected officials are any indication, the population of people who have is small.

Perhaps in 2023, when the same exact issues surface and OCFS’s bodycount has grown, Alberi should offer her report in the form of a TikTok video to better accommodate the attention spans of the people who might be able to fix the problem.

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