Maine State Capitol, Augusta, ME. photo Ramona du Houx

By Ramona du Houx

February 23, 3022

Rep. Michele Meyer, D-Eliot, introduced a bill before the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee on Tuesday that seeks to restore Maine’s once successful child welfare system. The proposal comes in response to 2021 being the worst year on record for children’s deaths involving abuse and neglect in households with prior involvement with child protective services.

“Maine’s child welfare system was once a national model, widely viewed as among the best in the country,” said Rep. Meyer, House chair of the Health and Human Services Committee. “But over the last decade, we have failed to invest in the programs and initiatives that help stabilize families and keep kids safe. At the same time, the opioid crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic have only exacerbated the stress so many families are facing. We know what it takes to reform our child welfare system, and focusing on prevention alongside improved intervention is essential.”

Under an amendment proposed by Meyer, LD 393 would invest $2 million in strengthening behavioral health services for at-risk families. It would also increase support for kinship families, which are grandparents and other family members who are raising children, and improve coordination within and between state agencies to support families and bolster prevention efforts against child abuse and neglect. 

“Our work here today represents an important step forward to improving Maine’s child welfare system,” said Rep. Michael Brennan, D-Portland, House chair of the Legislature’s Education and Cultural Affairs Committee. “There is much work to be done before Maine’s system will once again be held as the standard, but these proposals start us on that course and chart a pathway for ensuring that Maine children are protected.”

More than 75 percent of child maltreatment cases in 2020 were neglect or emotional abuse, often related to a parent’s mental health and substance use disorders. According to Grandfamilies State Law and Policy Center, a national legal resource in support of grandparents within and outside the child welfare system, 9,000 Maine children are being raised by kin with no parent present, and 5,224 grandparents are responsible for their grandchildren.

“In response to recent child deaths, reports of abuse and neglect, and the stress of the pandemic, our natural response is to focus attention on effective intervention when families are in crisis,” said Meyer. “We must also respond by ensuring families have the resources and support they need to prevent the need for intervention in the first place.”

The Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee will hold a work session on the proposal in the coming weeks.

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