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PORTLAND, Maine — The Maine Welfare Child Action Network held a virtual conference Wednesday to discuss child welfare reform in Maine.
Over the summer, four Maine children died from abuse or neglect. As of Wednesday, there are currently 2,200 kids in state custody, the group said.
The Maine Welfare Child Action Network said the children’s deaths shed light on issues within the system. One of those issues brought up during the virtual discussion was difficulty accessing available services, especially in rural areas of the state.
“The state’s highest rates of maltreatment in 2020 were in rural counties that have less access to supportive and treatment services,” Lewiston-based Community Concepts CEO and foster adoptive parent to seven children Sean Yardley said.
Yardley said in that same year, three-quarters of cases of child maltreatment were due to neglect or emotional abuse often related to parental mental health or substance use disorder.
He suggested expanding the availability of community-based supports such as family resource centers and recovery resource centers.
Yardley added that children and families of color continue to be disproportionality represented in Maine’s foster care system.
Melissa Hackett of the Maine Children’s Alliance said the labor shortage is a critical part of the conversation.
Spurwink, an organization that helps children and families affected by behavioral health challenges and developmental disabilities, has had a 33% decrease in its workforce over the last three years.
They went from 1,200 full and part-time employees to 850 today. This has forced organizers at Spurwink to consolidate children’s services from four campuses down to two to ensure they are appropriately staffed. With this change, 40 child residential beds were lost.