The Legislature’s watchdog agency said Friday that state child welfare workers made no apparent missteps in their response to allegations of abuse and neglect involving Hailey Goding, a 3-year-old girl who died of an overdose after getting access to her mother’s drugs.

The Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability’s conclusion caused frustration among some lawmakers on the Government Oversight Committee, which ordered the investigation.

OPEGA’s report is based on the first of four in-depth case reviews involving recent child deaths. Maine’s child welfare ombudsman said other cases will likely result in different conclusions.

Peter Schleck, director of the nonpartisan OPEGA, said the agency’s review of the Goding case file was consistent with department accounts, concluding that “the safety decisions regarding Hailey Goding were not unsound (given) what was known or should have been known at the time.”

“This is not a case where report after report after report has been made and nothing is being done,” Schleck said. “At each and every opportunity the department had to receive a report, they went through their triage. They went through their screening. They went through their assessments. When the phone rang they answered it.”

Christine Alberi, the state’s independent child welfare ombudsman, agreed with OPEGA’s assessment, although she suggested that subsequent case examinations will not come to the same conclusion regarding the department’s actions.


“This case is OK and the department more or less followed policies and procedures here,” said Alberi, who has been critical of the state’s case management system. “It’s not going to be the case with some of the other child death cases specifically, but that is true of this case.”

The committee will hold a hearing on the Goding report on March 10 and is expected on April 14 to receive the case review of 3-year-old Maddox Williams. Last December, a jury found Williams’ mother, Jessica Trefethen of Stockton Springs, guilty of depraved indifference murder and sentenced her to 47 years in prison.

Four childhood deaths in 2021 renewed calls for an investigation into the Office of Child and Family Services. This is the second round of investigations into the child welfare system, with the first prompted by the 2018 deaths of Marissa Kennedy, 10, and Kendall Chick, 4.

The Government Oversight Committee has been leading the Legislature’s investigations, although it has been denied direct access to case files in several child deaths. The documents have been handed over instead to OPEGA staff.

Sen. Jeff Timberlake, R-Turner, said he was frustrated with OPEGA’s report on the Goding case. He was expecting to read about clear instances where the system failed given that a child died after coming into contact with the state’s protective program.

“Not that I’m looking to say this person did this wrong, but we’ve got a (3)-year-old child that’s dead here,” Timberlake said. “When I read this report, I can’t find anything that tells me where we went wrong. And we obviously went wrong, or we wouldn’t have a child dead. I know accidents happen, but even when accidents happen, something went wrong and you can point to what went wrong.”


OPEGA’s review found that the Office of Child and Family Services investigated every lead and followed state law and policies as best they could, including conducting onsite visits and interviews in the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic. But they could not develop the evidence needed to make a court claim that the child’s health was in danger.

The report concluded that the state properly investigated a report received from a local hospital in May 2020, when Hillary Goding of Old Town brought her daughter into the emergency room after the child placed a piece of tin foil in her mouth at a school playground and began falling asleep and nodding off.

Both the mother and the child had tested positive for fentanyl and cocaine, although Goding denied substance use, saying it must have been accidental exposure to the foil, the report said.

The caseworker was skeptical of the mother’s story, so they interviewed the witness – a school employee and mandated reporter – who corroborated the story, the report said.

Despite a lack of evidence, caseworkers still got Goding to agree to a safety plan, which included random drug screens, counseling services and living with a second caregiver. Goding attended subsequent counseling sessions, except for recommended trauma therapy, which was not available, and the case was closed that July, the report states.

Caseworkers also thoroughly investigated an anonymous report in January 2021 that Hillary Goding had threatened her mother with a gun. But that investigation failed to produce enough evidence to intervene because the grandmother denied the incident took place.


Caseworkers were unable to locate Hillary Goding, who was no longer living with her mother. They spoke to her on the phone once, the report states, but she refused to meet with them. They followed tips from police, calling eight different hotels looking for guests registered under Goding’s name or others provided by police. They called friends, health care providers and another relative, but still could not track her down, the report states.

In the first instance, Schleck said, Goding showed concern for her daughter by bringing her to the hospital and submitting to drug screenings, while not appearing to be intoxicated. And in the second instance they followed every lead and simply could not locate Goding, he said.

“When the phone rang, they answered and they worked the case,” Schleck said.

Yet on June 4, the Old Town Police Department received a 9-1-1 call shortly before 11 p.m. from Goding, saying her daughter was unresponsive, according to a department memo. The girl had no pulse when rescuers arrived and CPR was performed for nearly 20 minutes, as the mother “appeared to be impaired and nodding in and out.”

Health officials did not believe Goding’s timeline of events and in subsequent interviews by caseworkers and police the mother eventually admitted to not calling for help sooner because she worried about repercussions.

“Ms. Goding stated that Hailey had accessed her drugs in the bathroom and immediately started acting strangely,” the OCFS memo states. “Ms. Goding claimed that Hailey accessed a straw that Ms. Goding had used to ingest drugs. Medical staff informed the caseworker that Hailey was brain dead due to extended oxygen deprivation. Hailey was pronounced dead at 10:04 a.m. on June 6, 2021.”

During the trial, it was revealed that Goding waited 20 hours before calling for help, carrying her daughter’s body in and out of her apartment.

Hillary Goding pled guilty to manslaughter and was sentenced to 19 years in jail.

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