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Child agency watchdog: Little has improved despite scrutiny

November 11, 2021 GMT

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — The head of a watchdog office within the state’s children’s welfare agency said that despite ongoing scrutiny, little has changed to address what she told lawmakers were deep-seated problems.

Maine’s child welfare ombudsman Christine Alberi testified before the Legislature’s Health and Human Services and Government Oversight committees Wednesday, the Portland Press Herald reported. Alberi’s office provides independent oversight of the state’s Office of Child and Family Services.

Her staff reviewed 84 cases this year and found “substantial issues” in half of them, she said. Last year, the ombudsman’s office reviewed 90 cases and similarly found problems with 38 of them, the newspaper reported.


“We need to do something different than what we’re doing,” Alberi said. “There have been no real improvements to any of the outstanding issues I’ve seen.”

Her comments follow the release of an investigation by an outside organization into the deaths of five children in the state in June.

The report from Casey Family Services recommended that Maine Department of Health and Human Services establish joint protocols with law enforcement, hospitals and and child welfare staff when there is suspected neglect or abuse. It also identified staff retention as an ongoing issue.

Lawmakers at the joint hearing called the report a starting point but criticized it for not providing more information about what happened in the five deaths in June.

“The report does not address many things that prevent the systems from working the way we want them to,” Alberi said when asked about it.

Her office’s review of cases found that most of the problems arose during the initial investigation of potential neglect or abuse and during family reunification.

The director of the Office of Child and Family Services, Todd Landry, told lawmakers staff retention had improved and the agency was committed to transparency as it makes changes.