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2 child welfare advocates resign from Maine ombudsman board

July 19, 2021 GMT

AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) — Two members of the child welfare ombudsman’s board have resigned, citing concerns about child welfare practices and suggesting the Department of Health and Human Services isn’t receptive to oversight.

Board members Ally Keppel and James “Allie” McCormack said their resignations last week stem from longstanding concerns that were underscored by the recent deaths of four children.

“Another legislative session has gone by without any significant changes, and the newspaper articles reporting multiple child deaths involving some degree of DHHS involvement have arrived as feared,” they wrote.

Four recent deaths include the fatal beating of 3-year-old Maddox Williams, in Stockton Springs. His mother is in jail, charged with murder.

McCormack and Keppel wrote that processes, including the office of ombudsman, that were created after the 2001 death of Logan Marr “clearly have been ineffective in influencing the DHHS.” Logan’s suffocation death at the hands of a former state caseworker prompted soul-searching.

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The child welfare services ombudsman board offers policy suggestions but does not have access to confidential information about child welfare cases, the Bangor Daily News reported.

A state lawmaker had to get involved before the board was able to review the deaths of 10-year-old Marissa Kennedy in 2018 and 4-year-old Kendall Chick in 2017, which spurred a number of reforms.

“We were so disappointed nothing really changed after Marissa Kennedy and Kendall Chick and then we had four deaths,” McCormack told the Portland Press Herald. “The status quo ain’t working,” he added.

A DHHS spokesperson said the department will continue working with the office of the ombudsman and entities including the Child Death and Serious Injury Review Panel; the Maine Child Welfare Advisory Panel; and Maine Justice for Children Task Force. The department also has partnered with Casey Family Programs to gain the outside perspective of national experts.

“We take seriously our responsibility as a state and as a society to do all we can to help children grow up safe and ensure they have the love and attention they need,” said Jackie Farwell.