Opinion

Rethinking our approach to protecting our children

Since 2017, at least 22 children, who have been reported to be suspected victims of abuse or neglect, have died since 2017.

That is unacceptable.

I am proud to be working with a colleague who understands that. Sen. Bill Diamond, D-Windham, is a staunch advocate of children’s rights and their well-being, and I have worked as a guardian at litem for many years in the Houlton area, where I make sure at-risk children have representation in the court system. He and I share a commitment to make Maine a safer place for our most vulnerable children. This legislative session, Sen. Diamond has offered a solution that could completely revamp Maine’s child protective services for the betterment of Mainers everywhere.

His bill, LD 1554, “Resolve, Establishing a Commission To Reform Child Protective Services,” would create a council of senators and representatives to take a hard look at child protective services and host public hearings to understand what is, and most importantly, what isn’t working.

These public hearings, where we will listen and question experts in the field, will help inform us on what reforms need to be made to improve child protective services and to help at-risk children. After these hearings, the commission will produce a report and propose legislation to address the needs that the commission has identified. Our deadline to submit the report will be February of next year.

Sen. Diamond and I believe that this commission would signal a change in how we look at child protective services. I know many, many people who care about protecting our most vulnerable children. I know that changes have been made, but there haven’t been enough of them. While I know the Department of Health and Human Services works incredibly hard to protect these children, we need to do more. Twenty-two deaths is alarming, no matter how you look at it.

The ultimate goal of this commission will be to produce policy changes that will have a long-term impact on child protective services. This commission will be able to do that by having the authority to subpoena witnesses and documents and grant access to otherwise confidential information to lawmakers.

This is huge. This will mean that the commission will be able to leave no stone unturned while gaining as much understanding as possible of what gaps or failures exist within the system. We would also include law enforcement and schools in this study. They are important and will help us determine how we can best take care of these kids. As someone appointed by a court to protect the interests of a minor as a guardian at litem, I also see how the courts work with all of these institutions and know there are improvements that can be made.

By putting our heads together, I truly believe that this commission can devise innovative ways to solve these problems.

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