DHHS chief says agency will urge hiring of 75 more child protective workers

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AUGUSTA — Maine’s top health and human services official told lawmakers Tuesday that the caseworker staff in the state’s child protective system would increase under a bill that would soon be unveiled.

Ricker Hamilton, commissioner of the Department of Health and Human Services, said he expected an upcoming bill supported by Gov. Paul LePage would recommend the child protective staff would increase by about 75 caseworkers.

At the same time, some services that are contracted out to private, nonprofit agencies would instead be completed by DHHS staff workers, Hamilton said at a meeting of the Government Oversight Committee.

The wide-ranging bill would be revealed soon and Hamilton said he expected the governor would call the Legislature back into special session to consider the measure.

State Sen. Bill Diamond, D-Windham, said he was pleased to hear that the issue is being prioritized. Diamond said children are being abused while the state considers making changes in the child protective system.

“We don’t have time to flitter around,” Diamond said. “We have to deal with this now.”

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Hamilton appeared after being subpoenaed by the oversight committee, which sought to compel his participation in its review of the child protective system following the beating deaths of two Maine children.

Maine’s child protective services have been under intense scrutiny since two girls – 4-year-old Kendall Chick of Wiscasset and 10-year-old Marissa Kennedy of Stockton Springs – died in late 2017 and early 2018.

Authorities say both girls were severely abused at home over a long period of time, and questions have swirled about why DHHS never picked up on the dangerous situations or failed to follow up on reports of suspected abuse.

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