Skip to main content

State of Maine DHHS: Maine DHHS Announces Structural Improvements to Office of Child and Family Services

By January 18, 2024March 1st, 2024News

State of Maine Department of Health and Human Services Press Release

Maine DHHS Announces Structural Improvements to Office of Child and Family Services

Names Bobbi Johnson as Permanent Director, Launches Child Welfare Management Review, and Realigns Behavioral Health Services

AUGUSTA— The Maine Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) announced today structural changes to improve services for children and families in Maine.

Effective today, Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew has appointed Bobbi Johnson, who has served as Acting Director of the Office of Child and Family Services (OCFS), as its permanent Director. Under Johnson’s leadership, the Office will launch a management review of the Child Welfare Division of OCFS. Additionally, behavioral health services within DHHS will be reorganized to improve staff support and outcomes for Maine children and families. These actions aim to advance the health and safety of Maine children and families as well as the people and partners who support them. They reflect suggestions from families, front-line workers, State leadership, and Legislators.

“I welcome Director Johnson into her new role leading the Office of Child and Family Services. Director Johnson’s depth of experience, empathy, and compassion are central to our ongoing improvements to child welfare,” said Governor Janet Mills. “These improvements will also include a restructuring of the Office to elevate its focus on child welfare while better aligning the delivery of important behavioral services for Maine children through the Office of Behavioral Health. My Administration looks forward to continued discussions with families, caseworkers, lawmakers, the Child Welfare Ombudsman, and other partners on how we can continue to improve child welfare and ensure the health, safety, and welfare of every Maine child.”

“Director Johnson brings valuable depth of experience, skill and heart to this position,” said DHHS Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew. “These changes to the leadership and organization of OCFS are the result of feedback from staff, community leaders, legislators and other partners, with the goal of improving our contribution to the shared work of keeping children safe and families strong.”

“I’m honored to take the helm of the Office of Child and Family Services after 28 years working to improve the health and safety of Maine children,” said OCFS Director Bobbi Johnson. “I come to this role with deep gratitude for the opportunity to better help Maine families, a sense of urgency to meet the challenges we face, and a belief that with continued hard work and dedication, we can.”

Johnson’s appointment results from her demonstrated commitment to Maine children and families, as reflected in her 28-year career in social work and public service. She has supported countless children and families, brings experience as a kinship resource parent herself, has mentored many dedicated social workers, been recognized for her leadership by Adoptive and Foster Families of Maine, and is deeply knowledgeable about Maine’s child welfare system.

As part of the process to find a new Director, Commissioner Lambrew consulted caseworkers, who recommended a leader who knows first-hand the challenges of working with families in distress and can hit the ground running. With the Governor and Commissioner supportive of resetting this role, Director Johnson is positioned to make changes informed by front-line workers, partners and experts, and her own deep experience to promote the safety of children and the strength of biological, resource (i.e., foster), and adoptive families.

As she steps into her permanent role, Director Johnson will also lead a rapid management audit of the Child Welfare Division. This audit, which was suggested by several members of the Legislature’s Government Oversight Committee and requested by Director Johnson upon her appointment, will examine the organization of the Child Welfare Division’s Central and District Offices, its communication processes, culture, leadership support, as well as specific questions, such as how to best incorporate staff and partner input into the information technology system Katahdin. Conducted by an outside organization with expertise in Maine’s Child Welfare Division, this review will produce recommendations for the short- and long-term by the end of March 2024. It will serve as a roadmap on child welfare for Johnson and the to-be-hired Associate Director for Child Welfare Services, the position Johnson most recently held, complementing plans already developed by Director Johnson that incorporate staff, legislative, and partner input.

Additionally, Maine DHHS will transition Children’s Behavioral Health Services (CBHS) from OCFS to the DHHS Office of Behavioral Health (OBH). This reorganization more closely connects children’s behavioral health with the continuum of behavioral health services for adults, facilitating a whole-family and integrated approach to mental health and substance use prevention, treatment, crisis response, and recovery. This also allows OCFS leadership to more intensely focus on child welfare and child care, both top priorities for the Governor and Legislature. Moving these roughly 40 CBHS positions from OCFS, which has nearly 900 positions, to OBH, which currently has fewer than 100 positions, better balances staff across Offices. This will enable leadership in both Offices to increase support for and better incorporate feedback from staff in these service areas.

“Bobbi’s depth of experience as a caseworker, a kinship resource parent, and within the child welfare system for nearly three decades makes her the right expert at the right time as we work to better support Maine children and families. I look forward to working with Bobbi in her new role,” said Rep. Michele Meyer, House Chair of the Health and Human Services Committee. “Ensuring children’s behavioral health remains coordinated with child welfare while being better connected to services for adults will benefit families, too.”

“The Department’s decision to realign behavioral health services will better serve Maine children and families in need of support, from prevention to intervention to recovery,” said Eric Meyer, CEO of Spurwink Services. “Bobbi Johnson has long been a force for children and families in Maine and we applaud her appointment as the Director to lead OCFS into its next chapter.”

“Director Johnson brings many years of experience working to support child safety and family well-being in our state,” said Melissa Hackett, Coordinator of the Maine Child Welfare Action Network. “We appreciate her longstanding commitment to children and families, as well as the state and community partnerships she already has in place to leverage in her new role. We look forward to working together to improve outcomes for children, youth, and families in our state. We also appreciate the announcement of an external management audit of the Child Welfare Division, and plans to re-align children’s behavioral health services, as concrete steps the Department is taking to ensure the demands of child welfare operations and systems improvements are met.”

“Congratulations to Bobbi Johnson on her appointment to Director of OCFS,” said Julie Sweeney Springwater, Executive Director (retired) of the New England Association of Child Welfare Commissioners and Directors. “Director Johnson’s commitment to improving the lives of children and families of Maine is well recognized. Her established relationships with leaders and communities in Maine is a key asset. As important is her deep understanding of OCFS, its staff, the people it serves, and its strengths and challenges. This is a wonderful opportunity for Maine.”

The changes announced today are part of the Mills Administration’s continuing efforts to improve the child welfare system. Since 2019, Maine DHHS has increased caseworker positions by 27 percent, increased resource or foster parents by 22 percent, and implemented changes to bring information systems and tools into compliance with Federal law. In this last year, the Department continued to fully implement a safety science model to improve child welfare practices, increased the minimum pay for case aides in the biennial budget by 10 percent, and partnered with the Maine Child Welfare Action Network to develop and implement a Child Safety and Family Wellbeing Plan to address upstream factors to prevent child abuse and neglect in the first place. This fall, in light of concerning problems with vacancies, staff morale, and several performance measures, Maine DHHS intensified its efforts, including a management consultant’s review of the Lewiston Office, a survey to understand caseworker and supervisors’ perspectives, and a reset of the role and qualification for the Director of OCFS, which is reflected in today’s announcement. Further information about the reorganization of behavioral health services is available here.