More than 2,600 Maine children were abused in 2018, according to a report published this month by the state’s Child Protective Services. That’s a nearly 25 percent increase from the year before, but officials say the higher number is not surprising.
Increased awareness after the high-profile deaths of 4-year-old Kendall Chick and 10-year-old Marissa Kennedy likely drove the spike in referrals of suspected abuse to the state in 2018, according to the report.
Those initial referrals led Maine’s Department of Health and Human Services to open more cases for assessment, which led to more confirmed findings of abuse — about 500 more than the year before.
The state’s Child Welfare Ombudsman, Christine Alberi, says those numbers do not necessarily signal an increased risk.
“I don’t think that the risk to the population of children has gone up all that much. I think it’s how DHHS is responding now,” she said.
According to the report, the state revamped its call system to better respond to referrals of suspected abuse and added a background check unit to assist front-line staff. Todd Landry, the director of the Office of Child and Family Services, said drug and alcohol use are the biggest driving factors of abuse and neglect, and more kids are entering into state care.
“We do have a number of kids who need high-quality foster families, and we look forward to working with anyone interested in doing that,” he said.
Landry says a high volume of calls and assessments continue to be a major challenge for Child Protective Services. State lawmakers authorized the agency to hire 62 new positions, starting in September.
If you are concerned about a child being neglected or abused, call Maine’s 24-hour hotline at 800-452-1999 or 711 to speak with a child protective specialist. Calls may be made anonymously. For more information, visit maine.gov/dhhs/ocfs/cw/reporting_abuse.
This article appears through a media partnership with Maine Public.