The state’s child welfare office is facing renewed scrutiny after court documents revealed Tuesday that it had investigated suspected child abuse two months before a 3-year-old girl was allegedly killed by the man originally suspected of abusing her.

But it’s unclear what investigation by the Office of Child and Family Services found, or what measures the state was taking to protect the children in the home. State officials would not answer questions about the case, citing client confidentiality and the ongoing criminal case.

The disclosure of prior state involvement in yet another child death added to concerns of state lawmakers that the state is failing to protect children.

“Our kids need to stop dying,” said Sen. Craig Hickman, D-Winthrop, who chairs the Legislature’s Government Oversight Committee. “We need to do better. There are no easy answers, but any death of a child is a tremendous loss to a family and a community.”

The oversight committee is currently reviewing the state’s involvement in four child deaths that happened in 2021. However, the committee is only able to review investigative reports from the state’s independent watchdog agency, the Office of Program and Government Accountability, because it cannot access the actual case files under state law. And details of the cases are only being provided to lawmakers well after the deaths, after criminal cases are resolved.

Hickman said the committee has not yet identified any glaring systemic failures in reviews of two of those deaths, but he hopes the committee will be able to recommend possible improvements once all four reviews are complete.


It wasn’t clear Wednesday if the death of Makinzlee Hanrahan would be the subject of a similar legislative review, but lawmakers said the tragic circumstances underscored the need for transparency and reform.

The disclosure of a state investigation into suspected abuse two months before Makinzlee’s death in Edgecomb on Christmas Day 2022 came from a court affidavit outlining the evidence supporting the arrest of Tyler Witham-Jordan, who is accused of fatally beating the girl.

Maine State Police Detective James Moore wrote in the filing that he learned from the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office that the Department of Health and Human Services launched an investigation in October 2022 after receiving a report of suspected abuse from child’s daycare provider. The child care provider reported that Makinzlee had a scratch and bruises.

Moore wrote that Witham-Jordan, who lived in the home with the child’s mother, Faith Lewis, was a suspect in that case. But both he and Lewis told investigators that Makinzlee had been scratched by a cat and had fallen on the stairs on multiple occasions.

The girl’s father, Henry Handrahan, told the Press Herald that the case was closed after two different doctors examined Makinzlee and found no evidence of abuse.

State officials would not discuss the case Wednesday. A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Human Services said that Todd Landry, director of the Office of Child and Family Services, which oversees child protection, was not available for an interview.


Police say that Witham-Jordan was experiencing withdrawal symptoms on Christmas Eve when he allegedly beat Makinzlee with a hairbrush, dragged her into her bedroom and left her all night with the window open, as temperatures dropped to 15 degrees.

Other children were in the home at the time, but officials are not saying where they are now or who has custody of them.


Rep. Amy Arata, R-New Gloucester, who serves on the Government Oversight Committee, said the panel may consider adding this case to their reviews. She said an underlying theme of the cases reviewed is drug use.

“I’m horrified by this entire situation,” Arata said. “I think this would warrant further investigation.”

Arata suggested that the state needs to get tougher on parents who are actively using drugs.


“Sometimes you have to make subjective judgments as caseworkers, but drug use is something we can test for,” she said. “I think we need to be tougher in terms of protecting children from parents who are addicted to drugs.”

Sen. Joe Baldacci, D-Bangor, said the oversight committee is limited in what it can do. That’s why he has put forward a bill to create an inspector general office to oversee child abuse and neglect investigations. More than 2,000 children are currently in state custody. And Baldacci said more needs to be done to ensure they’re safe.

“We need an oversight office,” Baldacci said. “We need structural reform. It’s not an issue of personalities. It’s about having better transparency and accountability in our structure.”

The Mills administration has taken steps to increase funding to support families in crisis, including those in need of substance use treatment. And it also has supported efforts to strengthen the state’s independent child ombudsman’s office, which reviews cases based on complaints and compiles an annual report for lawmakers.

The apartment complex off U.S. Route 1 in Edgecomb where first responders were called Christmas Day and found Makinzlee Handrahan unresponsive. Staff photo by Rachel Ohm.

Ombudsman Christine Alberi said her office has reviewed the Edgecomb case, but said that she is unable to speak about it, or the recent disclosure of DHHS involvement, because of confidentiality rules.

But Alberi provided information about the process for investigating child abuse. She said the state has 45 days to complete an investigation. That entails talking to the person who filed the complaint and observing and interviewing the child, preferably in the home, within 24-72 hours. Caseworkers also are tasked with interviewing other people in the child’s life, like grandparents doctors, teachers, police officers and school counselors.


Alberi said caseworkers often devise a safety plan that allows children to remain in the home during the investigation. Such plans can prohibit people suspected of domestic abuse from being in the home.

But in cases where a child is believed to be in immediate danger, she said caseworkers can work with police to place a six-hour hold on the child and take them into custody. That hold can be extended with a judge’s approval, she said, but a full hearing must be held within seven to 14 days for parents to challenge the removal, with the help of a lawyer, while the children are represented by a guardian ad litem.

Cases can be resolved in several ways, including full restoration of parental rights, a termination of parental rights or an ongoing service case, which can last years.

Alberi has repeatedly criticized DHHS for leaving children in dangerous homes, rather than removing them.

“That has been our concern,” Alberi said. “The department is not acting quickly enough in cases.”

DHHS officials have said the agency removes children when the legal standards are met.



Finding enough caseworkers to investigate child abuse is becoming a bigger struggle in Maine and elsewhere in the country amid widespread workforce shortages affecting all sectors of the economy.

The child protective district that covers Edgecomb and Lincoln County has experienced significant turnover in the last year, and had the lowest rate of success in placing children from state custody into permanent and safe homes in August, according to state records.

Last October, the child protection unit was staffed at half capacity, with one of two supervisor positions and five of 10 caseworker posts vacant. As of August, the unit was down to one supervisor and two caseworkers, none of whom was on the roster the prior fall.

District 4, which is headquartered in Rockland, also has the state’s lowest success rate in placing children in permanent and safe homes.

As of August, only 29% of the children (two out of seven) discharged from state custody did not return for a year, compared to other districts, which ranged from 76% to 100%. The national standard is 91.7%.


Citing confidentiality rules, DHHS spokesperson Jackie Farwell said she could not say which district investigated the abuse complaint filed in October against Witham-Jordan, who was later charged with the depraved indifference murder of a child. Nor would she disclose the status of that investigation when 3-year-old Makinzlee died two months later.

Farwell said DHHS is doing everything it can to address the vacancies. And she said District 4’s low success rate in finding permanent placements is driven by the relatively small number of children in custody – about 150, compared to 300 to 400 in other districts.

“Specifically, districts surrounding District 4 have been utilized and unfilled positions from District 4 were moved to other Districts to support this work,” she said. “The complexities behind reunification and the reason why a child may reenter custody vary with each individual case.

“OCFS is committed to the safety and wellbeing of children and takes seriously its obligation to protect children and remove them when the legal standard for removal is met, regardless of the family’s history.”

Related Headlines

Comments are not available on this story.