Wednesday, 11 July 2018 13:26

Maine DHHS chief tells oversight panel that governor wants increase child protective spending

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AUGUSTA - Governor Paul LePage plans to ask lawmakers to increase the number of child abuse investigators, the state's commissioner of the Department of Health and Human Services.

The administration plans to present the legislation as corrective measures following investigations into department policies and procedures.


Members of the Legislature's Oversight Committee initiated an investigation into the department's practices after the February death of 10-year-old Marissa Kennedy in Stockton Springs. The girl's parents face murder charges in connection with her death.


On Tuesday, committee members questioned the effectiveness of the state's child protective system.


"That system, I believe, is broken. And it may have been broken and probably has been for some time. And it clearly is broken in my opinion," Sen. Bill Diamond, D-Windham, said.


Last month, under orders from the governor, Commissioner Ricker Hamilton declined to attend the committee's meeting to answer questions. On Tuesday, complying with a subpoena, Hamilton disagreed with committee members about the health of the child protection services.


"I think the system is working as well as it can be at the moment," Hamilton said.


Diamond, however, continued to question the commissioner's defense of the department.


Hamilton deflected the senator's question by referring to an as-yet-unseen comprehensive bill that the governor plans to introduce. He told committee members the proposal will increase staff pay as well as the numer of child abuse investigators across the state.


"It's a tough job to go into homes where people don't want you there with the allegations about them," Hamilton said.


According to the commissioner, DHHS staffers process more than 50,000 phone calls reporting child abuse allegations on a yearly basis.


Other committee members questioned why the department's budget has maintained the status quo, changing little since 2008.


"Basically, it's pretty flat. It's 113 million in 2008. Now it's 119 million at this time," Sen. Geoffrey Gratwick, D-Bangor, noted.


Still, the commissioner said the administration deserved credit for increasing funding for child abuse and neglect councils across the state.


After nearly 2-1/2 hours of testimony from hamilton, it could be said there is a new spirit of cooperation as they head forward with the best interest of Maine's children at the center of this discussion.


TJ Tremble

Assistant News Director/Reporter
[email protected]

T.J. Tremble joined WVII ABC 7 and WFVX FOX 22 in March 2016.

He was raised in Bangor, attended Bangor schools and graduated from John Bapst High School. He attended the University of Maine, s...