Over the years, I’ve used many of my columns in the Windham Eagle to write about how important it is to invest in protecting Maine’s kids. Ever since 5-year-old Logan Marr was killed by her foster mother in 2001, I’ve made it a priority to improve Maine’s child welfare system. After all, the state had placed Logan in the home where she died, horrifically, after her foster mother duct-taped her to a highchair in the basement, which then tipped over, asphyxiating Logan. We were all left wondering: How could the state have let this happen?
After Logan died, those in Maine’s child protection system vowed to make changes so that nothing like that would happen again. But it did happen again. It happened to 10-week-old Ethan Henderson, who was killed by his father in 2012 even though child protection caseworkers had just recently visited his family. It happened in late 2017 and early 2018, when four-year-old Kendall Chick and 10-year-old Marissa Kennedy were beaten to death by their caregivers.
Maine child protection had placed Kendall in the home where she died, and despite 25 reports of suspected abuse in Marissa’s case, she was allowed to remain in the home. In fact, it’s happened 30 times between 2007 and mid-May 2021, and it’s happened to four Maine kids age three and younger since late May of this year alone.
In many of these cases, the state had been aware of problems for months or even years. In the 20 years since Logan was killed, a terrible cycle has emerged: A child dies, and we are all outraged; there are calls for reform, and the child protection system vows to make changes; a few things improve; and we all forget and move on until the next tragedy appears on the news. We cannot allow this to continue.
To honor these lost kids and to shine a light on the urgent need for reform in our child welfare system, I organized a walking tour called Walk a Mile in Their Shoes that took place on Tuesday, Sept. 28 and Wednesday, Sept. 29. The tour took me to Old Town, where 3-year-old Hailey Goding died in June of a fentanyl overdose. I then stopped in Bangor on my way to Brewer to honor six-week-old Jaden Harding, who died May 31, 2021 after allegedly being shaken by his father. My next stop was Stockton Springs, where Marissa Kennedy lived and where 3-year-old Maddox Williams died this June. I began day two in Augusta before walking to Chelsea, where Logan Marr lived before she died. I ended my walk in Wiscasset, home of Kendall Chick.
Along the way, I was joined by fellow legislators, community members, prosecutors, law enforcement officers, the press and even surviving family members of these lost kids. It was an incredibly moving experience. Together, we remembered these kids and we called upon those in charge of child welfare in Maine to finally admit that the system is in need of serious fixes. Maine’s problem is systemic; it is not the result of individual failings. The vast majority of child protection caseworkers are hardworking people who do this heartbreaking work because they care deeply about children. But if they don’t have the resources, training and supervision they need to do their jobs well, they will inevitably miss critical signs of abuse and make poor decisions that leave our kids at risk.
It is my hope that the Walk will help keep this issue in the spotlight so we can finally achieve the change we need. But that change will only happen if Maine’s child protection system finally admits there is a problem, and that will only happen if we keep the pressure on. That is my request of you. Do not let this time be like all the others. Keep talking about these kids and about the need for change. And stay vigilant in your daily life, because children across the state – kids who live in our neighborhoods – are suffering, and they’re counting on us to speak up. We are all responsible for protecting our most vulnerable.
If you believe a child is in immediate danger, call 911. To report cases of suspected child abuse or neglect, call Maine’s Child Protection Intake line at 1-800-452-1999. If you have concerns about how a child protection case is being handled, contact the Maine Child Welfare Ombudsman at 207-213-4773.
As always, I’m here to talk through your questions and concerns and to help you address any challenges you may be facing.
You can email me any time at email@example.com or call my office at 207-287-1515. <