Our testimony on the OPEGA report “Maine’s Child Protection System: A Study of How the System Functioned in Two Cases of Child Death by Abuse in the Home”
Senator Katz, Representative Mastraccio, members of the Government Oversight Committee, my name is Peggy Rice. I am a retired social worker and caseworker for the Maine Department of Health and Human Services. I am speaking on behalf of my union, the Maine State Employees Association, Local 1989 of the Service Employees International Union. My union represents over 12,000 workers and retired workers in Maine, including workers employed by the Maine Department of Health and Human Services.
We are here today in support of a comprehensive investigation into the circumstances surrounding the deaths of Marissa Kennedy and Kendall Chick. The care and safety of all Maine children is our primary concern. As such, we encourage the implementation of high quality standards of practice for all workers, including Maine DHHS workers, contractors and mandated reporters who come into contact with Maine children.
Our members who work at Maine DHHS remain extremely concerned about the department’s chronic public employee recruitment and retention problem. The turnover rate among intake workers, assessment workers and permanency workers within in the Office of Child and Family Services (OCFS) within Maine DHHS is high, averaging approximately 60 percent a year, according to our members. Caseloads of OCFS workers and the contracted workers in the Alternative Response Program (ARP) also are high – so high that many DHHS workers we represent say they are completely overwhelmed.
Many of the “potential areas for concern or improvement in the child protection system” listed in the OPEGA report are concerns we share. These areas include, but are not limited to, guidance and training for mandated reporters, a caseload and staffing that allows for timeliness of answering phone calls, timeliness and comprehensiveness of OCFS and ARP assessments of risk, and appropriateness of caseloads and adequacy of supervision and training of OCFS and ARP staff. A revolving staff, coupled with a workforce fractured between public workers and private contractors, can make it difficult to piece together the big picture necessary to keep Maine children safe and to protect them from dangerous situations.
For these reasons, we urge you to do everything within your power to address the public employee recruitment and retention problem at Maine DHHS, and to ensure that all OCFS workers and all other workers in contact with Maine children have the training, tools and support necessary to provide quality public services. Please also ensure that the voice of OCFS workers is heard in both the ongoing investigations and in related policy making. Many Maine DHHS workers we represent feel as if their voices haven’t been heard in management decisions relating to the delivery of child-protective services. They want to ensure high quality standards of practice are implemented at every turn. Thank you.