AP NEWS

Report: Dropped calls plague child welfare system

February 16, 2019

AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) — Maine’s child welfare system is plagued by insufficient training and poor technology that leads to dropped and abandoned calls, according to a new report by an independent firm released this month.

Maine must boost its training, adjust caseloads and staffing ratios and improve its technology to better serve children and families, according to the report by Boston-based firm Public Consulting Group.

The report found a live person answered only two-thirds of roughly 6,100 calls to the welfare hotline from January through October 2018. Roughly 20 percent of calls were abandoned over the last three months, and it was unclear how successful state workers were in reaching callers who left voicemails.

“This means that a fifth of the people who are calling to report suspected abuse or neglect give up waiting and hang up,” the report states.

The firm interviewed child welfare staffers and held listening sessions across the state. The report states staff cited “the need for more consistent, timely and transparent communication.”

Democratic Gov. Janet Mills’ administration said it’ll draw up a plan to put such recommendations in place through 2020.

“We are committed to improving Maine’s child welfare system and will closely review this report as we further our support for staff and effort to improve outcomes for children and families,” said recently confirmed Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew.

Lawmakers, caseworkers and advocates have raised concerns over Maine’s child welfare system in the past year following the deaths of two young girls: 10-year-old Marissa Kennedy and 4-year-old Kendall Chick.

The Legislature’s Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability faulted state government’s “poor job performance” and “inadequate supervision” in the case of one of the girls. That report, however, didn’t blame the deaths on state workers.

Lawmakers last August passed a 11th-hour package of reforms to the state child welfare system, including one to provide $21.2 million in additional funding to replace an outdated information system, hire 16 new caseworkers and increase pay for foster families and caseworkers.

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The report can be read online: www.maine.gov/dhhs/ocfs/cw/index.shtml