L.D. 779: Child welfare agency

An Act to Create a Separate Department of Child and Family Services.
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The Senate voted in favor of the bill 22-8, but the House declined to take up the measure.
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An effort to create a standalone Department of Child and Family Services died this session despite receiving majority support in the Senate.

The bill would have transferred the responsibilities related to child and family welfare from the Department of Health and Human Services to a new agency with its own commissioner appointed by the governor. 

The sponsor of the bill said the legislation was developed in response to decades of “far-reaching and well-documented” problems within the Office of Child and Family Services under DHHS.

But opponents said it is unclear whether creating a separate department would address the concerns of workers within the department, and the children and families they serve.

The Senate voted in favor of the bill 22-8, but the House declined to take up the measure.

Read the full bill on the legislature’s website.

If you’d like to get a better sense of the debate, here are some excerpts from testimony: 

For:

“The repeated, growing, and endemic failures of the Office of Family and Child Services under Maine’s DHHS merit very special care and attention, as well as bold, comprehensive action. … Irrespective of where different representatives may stand on the finer details of potential reform, it is abundantly clear to me that the time for standing idly by and allowing the current arrangement to persist is simply not an option.” ~ Sen. Jeffrey Timberlake, bill sponsor

“As a foster parent in my ninth year, it has become noticeably clear to me, and many foster parents I am in communication with, that OCFS as it stands under DHHS is way too large to manage effectively with far too many shortcomings and deficiencies that are not being acknowledged or addressed in a timely manner.” ~ Melanie Blair, Lisbon 

Against:

“Significant work has been done, with the support and encouragement of the legislature  and stakeholders, to break down silos and reduce bureaucratic burden between and among programs that serve children and families of Maine. Separating child and family services from the department that also coordinates and pays for basic needs like food supports, MaineCare, and services for mental health and substance use disorders, could reduce effective child and family supports and duplicate administrative functions.” ~ Jeanne Lambrew, Department of Health and Human Services

“The council  is not so much opposed to the idea of a new Department for Child Welfare as we are concerned that the makeup of the proposed department is inappropriate and will not help children with disabilities. The child welfare system has many problems. But separate from those problems is the reality that the current oversized OCFS has many children who are not served and are lost to the system. These issues that are happening around children and youth with disabilities have different origins and different solutions than the issues around child welfare.” ~ Nancy Cronin, Maine Developmental Disabilities Council

Neither for nor against:

“It is unclear to us how this proposal will address the immediate and urgent needs of workers, and the children and families they serve. We understand the need to act swiftly and urgently, and we support the legislature’s desire to create change. However, we must ensure that any action being taken will truly improve the child protective system. We fear that this legislation could mean more bureaucracy and unnecessary management-level positions, and become a distraction from the critical work necessary to address the on-the-ground needs and changes that workers have been raising for years.” ~ Beth White, Maine Service Employees Association, SEIU Local 1989

“In general, our concern is that this is prescriptive restructuring, and we would suggest a more process-driven approach — something more like the commission that was supported last session by this committee and whose work is still underway. Overall, we would recommend that commission serve as the vehicle for considering this issue, and that any legislative action would come after that group reports out its findings.” ~ Melissa Hackett, Maine Child Welfare Action Network

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Rose Lundy

Rose Lundy covers public health for The Maine Monitor. She is a 2020 Report for America corps member, and a 2022 ProPublica Local Reporting Network fellow. Rose previously covered politics and local government at The Daily News in southwest Washington. She grew up in Minnesota and graduated from the University of Wisconsin.
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