DOVER-FOXCROFT, Maine — A state legislator from Newport has submitted a proposal to reinstate the Child and Family Services office in Dover-Foxcroft that was closed nearly 10 years ago.
Republican Ken Fredette has proposed LR 121, “An Act to Ensure Adequate Child and Family Protective Services Throughout the State,” to reopen the county office, which closed as a part of a consolidation of government services. The bill would require a Child and Family Services office in each county.
Fredette proposed the legislation last month after learning that Piscataquis County and three other counties didn’t have such an office. He attended a meeting last month at WomanCare in Dover-Foxcroft to discuss how domestic violence cases affect child protective services. Also present were Rep. Paul Davis, R-Sangerville, a sheriff’s department official and domestic violence victim’s advocates.
“The topic quickly changed after I asked why Child Protective Services wasn’t more involved in the case. I was informed that Piscataquis didn’t have an office,” Fredette said. “Anyone who wants to discuss a case with CPS would have to drive all the way to Bangor. It didn’t seem this was in the best interest of children’s safety. And it didn’t seem fair from a public policy perspective to deprive rural Maine of these services.”
Following the Aug. 14 meeting, Fredette and Davis sent a letter to Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew about reinstating the Dover-Foxcroft office. Fredette later questioned Mayhew during an Aug. 20 Appropriations Committee hearing about the agency’s plans regarding better access for Piscataquis County.
Mayhew responded that the department was aware of the situation. She indicated a mobile office in Piscataquis County may result in better access for those seeking child and family protective services.
Fredette’s action is not the first attempt at reinstating a child and family services office in Dover-Foxcroft. Reps. Davis and Pete Johnson, R-Greenville, have written to Gov. Paul LePage about the need. A local public service group, Helping Hands with Heart, has also contacted state officials about reopening the office.
The group has met twice with Therese Cahill-Low, the agency’s office for child and family services director, who indicated that DHHS officials agree that Piscataquis County residents deserve better access to social services.
“She agreed with us that it is both unfair and more needs to be done for people in regards to access to social services,” said Helping Hands with Heart committee member Sue Mackey-Andrews. “I hope it doesn’t come down to getting a bill passed. I don’t want to wait until June. I already think we are behind the eight-ball.”
Helping Hands with Heart officials believe all the groundwork has been laid for a Child and Family Protective Services office to reopen. The committee has worked an arrangement with each Piscataquis County municipality to offer free office space to the agency. So the agency would only need to supply a caseworker.
Mayhew received the letter from Fredette and Davis on Monday. She plans on reviewing the situation before responding to their request. Even though the Dover-Foxcroft office has been closed for six years, Mayhew believes the agency’s child protective services caseworkers do have a strong presence in Piscataquis County and throughout the state.
“Our people are primarily out in the field meeting with families. They are serving a much broader area than just where the physical office is located,” Mayhew said. “What we are looking at are ways to ensure appropriate accessibility for information about services and staff. We’re moving toward more online accessibility and possible partnerships and pilot programs with other community agencies in providing these services.”
Mayhew believes these programs may help address concerns that residents of Piscataquis County and other rural Maine areas have about better access to child and family services programs. The other counties without an office are Sagadahoc, Lincoln and Waldo.