DHHS commissioner said more caseworkers are being hired
AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) — Maine Health and Human Services Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew told lawmakers on Friday that the agency has hired 39 new staff members, including 16 more caseworkers, and that she’s working to implement changes to help overburdened caseworkers.
Lambrew said the agency is “committed to systemic improvements” as the Government Oversight Committee held a public hearing after a legislative watchdog found many child protective caseworkers are overworked — and have a caseload that’s too large.
The committee began reviewing Maine’s child protective system last year after two children died from abuse, 10-year-old Marissa Kennedy and 4-year-old Kendall Chick.
A report by the Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability found the majority of child welfare caseworkers were burdened by unsustainable workloads.
The committee heard from several people urging lawmakers to push for what they call overdue changes in the department along with further investigation.
Lambrew said DHHS was moving forward with changes, including those required by a law passed by the Legislature in September of 2018 in response to the deaths of Kennedy and Chick.
The law provided funding for a new computer and software systems to streamline documentation and data collection for caseworkers. Worker is also underway to modernize phone systems, improve criminal background check and collaborate on other changes, Lambrew said.
“We are striving to develop and implement change quickly, while ensuring this work is done thoughtfully, so the changes are sustainable into the future,” she said.