Our View: Mills administration’s effort to fix child welfare system is failing
Our View: Mills administration's effort to fix child welfare system is ... Press Herald
Child Welfare System in Maine: A Report on the Current State
It’s been years since a series of tragedies exposed Maine’s child welfare system as fatally flawed and, despite a lot of attention, no one can say it’s any better today.
In fact, the system appears to be teetering on the edge of collapse, as caseworkers plead for more resources and support from top officials who don’t seem to appreciate how bad things are.
In the meantime, who knows how many children are being left unprotected from abuse and neglect?
Maine’s Child Welfare System in Crisis
The Inherited Problem
Gov. Janet Mills may have inherited this mess from the LePage administration, which gutted the Department of Health and Human Services and left the ranks of child welfare workers too thin to do its job properly.
But it’s the governor’s problem now, and what’s she’s doing is simply not working. Worse, her administration won’t admit it.
Failing to Protect Children at Risk
More evidence of the failures within the Office of Child and Family Services came in an internal review released in September, which found that the child welfare system often has trouble identifying children at risk, and does not adequately address those risks when it does find them. The report states that Maine’s rate of recurring maltreatment is double the national standard, and has risen steadily in recent years.
The findings echo those from several earlier reports, including one from the Maine Child Welfare Services ombudsman in January, which found “substantial issues” with more than half of the cases it reviewed and a “downward trend in child welfare practice.”
In one case after another, the ombudsman reported, the state’s child welfare workers failed to see that a child was being kept in a risky situation, either because they did not gather enough information or they failed to act on the information they did have.
The Result of Cuts and Overwhelmed Caseworkers
It’s the same set of shortcomings we’ve heard about since 2018, when a series of child deaths brought the latest round of scrutiny onto DHHS. They are the result of cuts made to the child welfare system by then-Gov. Paul LePage at a time when the opioid crisis, and the lack of mental health and substance abuse services, were causing an increase in child abuse and neglect. Caseworkers became overwhelmed, unable to give each of the complex cases before them the attention they needed, opening huge cracks for abused kids to fall through.
Efforts to Improve
Gov. Mills and the Legislature have since made a number of investments in the child welfare system. Some are in long-term prevention strategies that will take some time to bear fruit.
But others were designed to help give caseworkers a more manageable workload, so they can make accurate assessments of the risks facing the children and families they work with. Thus far, the effort has been a failure.
Caseworkers Under Pressure
Speaking to a legislative committee in recent weeks, former and current caseworkers say the system is breaking under the pressure of increasing caseloads. Many positions remained funded but unfilled, and those left are forced to work long hours under great stress, with the knowledge that a mistake could put a child’s life in jeopardy.
Lack of Support and Inadequate Training
Managers, the caseworkers say, have given them little support and inadequate training. Caseworkers feel they are being left out in the cold by upper management, and that feeling is leading many of them to consider leaving. Without improvement, the Office of Child and Family Services will continue its spiral downward.
The Need for Acknowledgment and Action
The people in charge of fixing this mess have to admit there’s a problem before anything will get done.
The Mills administration, however, has repeatedly downplayed criticism. DHHS blamed the state’s broad definition of maltreatment on the high rates found in Maine. Todd Landry, director of OCFS, has cited the difficulty of gathering evidence against uncooperative parents, and of dealing with the increasingly complex family situations caused by mental illness, poverty and substance abuse, as reasons for the department’s shortfall.
But those excuses don’t explain why Maine’s rate of abuse keeps getting worse, nor do they recognize that every other child welfare agency in the country is dealing with the same set of circumstances.
The Importance of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)
Under Gov. Mills and the leadership at DHHS, Maine has made solid investments in children and families, supporting them in ways that should lessen abuse and neglect in the coming years.
We were hoping that additional efforts to support caseworkers, and the kids they protect, would be showing progress by now. They’re not. It’s time the administration admits it isn’t doing enough.
SDGs, Targets, and Indicators Analysis
1. Which SDGs are addressed or connected to the issues highlighted in the article?
- SDG 1: No Poverty
- SDG 3: Good Health and Well-being
- SDG 4: Quality Education
- SDG 5: Gender Equality
- SDG 10: Reduced Inequalities
- SDG 16: Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions
The issues highlighted in the article are connected to multiple SDGs. The article discusses the failures and flaws within Maine’s child welfare system, which relates to SDG 1 (No Poverty) as child abuse and neglect are often associated with poverty. It also relates to SDG 3 (Good Health and Well-being) as the child welfare system is responsible for protecting children from abuse and neglect, which can have negative impacts on their health and well-being. Additionally, it connects to SDG 4 (Quality Education) as the child welfare system plays a role in ensuring that children have access to a safe and supportive learning environment. The article also touches on SDG 5 (Gender Equality) as child abuse and neglect can disproportionately affect girls. Furthermore, it relates to SDG 10 (Reduced Inequalities) as the failures within the child welfare system can perpetuate inequalities and put vulnerable children at a higher risk. Lastly, it connects to SDG 16 (Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions) as the article discusses the need for improvements in the child welfare system to ensure justice and protection for children.
2. What specific targets under those SDGs can be identified based on the article’s content?
- Target 1.3: Implement nationally appropriate social protection systems and measures for all, including floors, and by 2030 achieve substantial coverage of the poor and the vulnerable.
- Target 3.2: By 2030, end preventable deaths of newborns and children under 5 years of age, with all countries aiming to reduce neonatal mortality to at least as low as 12 per 1,000 live births and under-5 mortality to at least as low as 25 per 1,000 live births.
- Target 4.2: By 2030, ensure that all girls and boys have access to quality early childhood development, care, and pre-primary education so that they are ready for primary education.
- Target 5.2: Eliminate all forms of violence against all women and girls in the public and private spheres, including trafficking and sexual and other types of exploitation.
- Target 10.2: By 2030, empower and promote the social, economic, and political inclusion of all, irrespective of age, sex, disability, race, ethnicity, origin, religion or economic or other status.
- Target 16.2: End abuse, exploitation, trafficking, and all forms of violence against and torture of children.
Based on the article’s content, the specific targets that can be identified are as follows:
– Target 1.3: The article highlights the need for a well-resourced child welfare system to protect vulnerable children from abuse and neglect.
– Target 3.2: The article discusses the negative impacts of child abuse and neglect on children’s health and well-being.
– Target 4.2: The article mentions the importance of providing a safe and supportive learning environment for children.
– Target 5.2: The article acknowledges the disproportionate impact of child abuse and neglect on girls.
– Target 10.2: The article emphasizes the need to address inequalities within the child welfare system and ensure the protection of all children, regardless of their background.
– Target 16.2: The article highlights the failures within the child welfare system to protect children from abuse and exploitation.
3. Are there any indicators mentioned or implied in the article that can be used to measure progress towards the identified targets?
Yes, there are indicators mentioned or implied in the article that can be used to measure progress towards the identified targets. These indicators include:
– Rate of recurring maltreatment: The article states that Maine’s rate of recurring maltreatment is double the national standard and has risen steadily in recent years. This indicator can be used to measure progress towards Target 3.2 (reducing preventable deaths and improving child well-being) and Target 16.2 (ending abuse and violence against children).
– Quality of early childhood development and pre-primary education: The article mentions the need for access to quality early childhood development and pre-primary education. The quality of these services can be measured through indicators such as teacher-student ratios, curriculum standards, and child outcomes. This indicator relates to Target 4.2 (ensuring access to quality early childhood education).
– Gender-based violence: The article discusses the need to eliminate violence against women and girls. Indicators related to gender-based violence, such as rates of domestic violence, sexual assault, and trafficking, can be used to measure progress towards Target 5.2 (eliminating violence against women and girls).
– Social inclusion: The article highlights the importance of promoting social, economic, and political inclusion for all individuals. Indicators related to social inclusion, such as poverty rates, access to healthcare and education, and representation in decision-making processes, can be used to measure progress towards Target 10.2 (promoting social inclusion).
4. Table: SDGs, Targets, and Indicators
|SDG 1: No Poverty||Target 1.3: Implement nationally appropriate social protection systems and measures for all, including floors, and by 2030 achieve substantial coverage of the poor and the vulnerable.||– Rate of recurring maltreatment|
|SDG 3: Good Health and Well-being||Target 3.2: By 2030, end preventable deaths of newborns and children under 5 years of age, with all countries aiming to reduce neonatal mortality to at least as low as 12 per 1,000 live births and under-5 mortality to at least as low as 25 per 1,000 live births.||– Rate of recurring maltreatment|
|SDG 4: Quality Education||Target 4.2: By 2030, ensure that all girls and boys have access to quality early childhood development, care, and pre-primary education so that they are ready for primary education.|