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Maine DHHS taking action ‘without delay’ after boy’s death

July 14, 2021 GMT

BELFAST, Maine (AP) — A Maine Department of Health and Human Services official confirmed that the agency is investigating its actions prior to several recent child deaths.

“Action is being taken without delay,” Todd Landry, director of DHHS Office of Child and Family Services, told the Government Oversight Committee during a hearing Wednesday.

The state has contracted with Casey Family Programs, a child welfare research organization, to work with state agencies to come up with improvements, the Portland Press Herald reported. Landry said he anticipates the recommendations will be made within 90 days.

The death of 3-year-old Maddox Williams in Stockton Springs drew statewide attention after his mother was charged in his beating. The boy was one of four children who died last month.

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The Maine DHHS had been involved at least a couple of times with Maddox’s parents before he died from blunt force trauma, police said. He died after his mother and grandmother brought him to a hospital June 20.

The grandmother is also facing charges for having allegedly concealed her daughter’s location from police. Sherry Johnson was charged June 30 with allegedly lying to police about where her daughter Jessica Trefethen was, the Bangor Daily News reported.

Johnson, 52, initially told police she had dropped Trefethen, 35, off at a public pier, but later admitted they had in fact been together. On June 23, police said Johnson told them she did not know where her daughter was but then revealed she was at home with her in Stockton Springs.

Trefethen was arrested the same day and appeared in court June 25 to face charges. She did not enter a plea at that hearing.

A judge set bail for $2,000 and ordered Johnson not to have contact with her daughter and several other people. Johnson could face up to 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine if convicted of concealing a person.

It is not clear if Johnson entered a plea, and it’s not clear if she has an attorney who can speak for her.

The deaths of Maddox and the other children within a month prompted a state lawmaker to call on the legislature to investigate. The DHHS has been under intense scrutiny and saw many reforms put in place after the deaths of two girls in 2017 and 2018.