On Wednesday, May 18, I joined fellow legislators, foster parents, childcare providers, and family members of murdered children to speak up in support of child protection reform.
We gathered together in front of the State House as the Government Oversight Committee met inside to continue their investigation into Maine’s child protection system. It was a powerful event, and one of the only times I'm aware of that people with firsthand experience with the system came forward to speak out in such a meaningful way.
Our message was clear: We want to collaborate with the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) about how to make things better and safer for all of Maine's kids. Attendees brought homemade signs to urge DHHS to be transparent and work toward reform, and to memorialize kids who have died.
Among those who stepped up to the microphone to address the press was Victoria Vose, grandmother of Maddox Williams, one of the children who died in the summer of 2021. Maddox’s death and the deaths of several other children over a short, months-long span – including 3-year-old Hailey Goding, 6-week-old Jaden Harding, and 1-month-old Sylus Melvin – began the latest push in the fight to reform Maine’s child protection system.
The GOC agreed to authorize this investigation, which has focused on oversight of child protection services and the efficacy of DHHS’s efforts to determine if a child is safe in their home. The ongoing investigation has kept the spotlight on this issue and the pressure on DHHS, even after the Legislature adjourned this May.
At their most recent monthly meetings, the GOC has spent hours speaking with DHHS officials, asking questions and gathering more information to help them direct the next steps of OPEGA’s investigation.
Periodically, the GOC allows the public to comment on what the Committee has learned from DHHS or OPEGA. In my opinion, these public comment periods are some of the most useful parts of the GOC’s work.
We won’t be able to make meaningful change without hearing from those who have witnessed gaps in the system firsthand – be they childcare providers, foster parents, teachers, doctors, law enforcement, families, or anyone else. Many of the people who participated in May’s rally at the State House have testified in front of the GOC, and their bravery has encouraged more and more people to do the same.
The GOC next meets at 9 a.m. Wednesday, July 20, and they will be holding a public comment period at that time.
If you have a perspective on Maine’s child protection system to share, I strongly encourage you to testify. You can catch up on what the GOC has discussed at their recent meetings by visiting their YouTube channel at www.youtube.com/c/MaineStateLegislature/channels. (Due to technical errors, there is no video record, only an audio record, of the GOC’s June 15 meeting, which you can find by visiting legislature.maine.gov/audio/#220).
If you are interested in testifying, please feel free to reach out to me, and I would be more than happy to help you understand the process and how to sign up.
Improving our child protection system is everyone’s responsibility, and I’m hopeful that as more people find the courage to step forward and share their stories we’ll finally be able to create a more transparent and robust system that truly protects Maine kids.
If you’d like help signing up to testify, please reach out to me at email@example.com or call my office at 207-287-1515.
You can also visit www.mainesenate.org to sign up to receive my regular e-newsletter and keep up with the latest developments on this issue. <