Governor Janet Mills speaks at a news conference in the State House, Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2019, in Augusta, accompanied by administration officials including and Health and Human Services Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew, at right. Credit: Robert F. Bukaty / AP

Good morning from Augusta. There are 11 days until the Nov. 2 referendum election.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “I could become an independent — like [Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders],” Sen. Joe Manchin, D-West Virginia, told the Hill amid rumors he was considering leaving his party, “and then they could explain some of this to the public saying it’s complicated to corral these two independents, Bernie and me.” We guess he forgot about Sen. Angus King. Here’s your soundtrack.

What we’re watching today

The first of several reports commissioned after the deaths of four children in June highlighted issues new and old for Maine’s child welfare system. Among the problems identified in Casey Family Programs’ probe of the Office of Child and Family Services were staffing problems made worse by the coronavirus pandemic, but familiar to those who have been following child welfare issues in recent years. They included high turnover rates, being short-staffed when workers had to be in quarantine — a situation that made the state’s deficit of caseworkers more apparent — and staff being available during after-hour situations.

Burnout was another factor in the report, something workers have long been saying prevents them from doing their job well. For those who remember the aftermath of the deaths of Marissa Kennedy and Kendall Chick, those findings indicate that the department’s challenges may not be solvable by more manpower alone. Lawmakers made changes in 2018 under former Gov. Paul LePage, then Gov. Janet Mills’ administration hired dozens of caseworkers and put in place new training tools meant to improve staff performance.

That was also apparent in the report’s findings of breakdowns in communication between OFCS and players crucial to monitoring child welfare, including police and hospitals. It found providers and caregivers were uncomfortable interacting with the system, speaking to cultural challenges for which the solution may be difficult to land on through efforts the state has tried before.

More studies are coming: The Legislature’s watchdog agency is preparing three reports set for 2022: a shorter, general report on the state of the child welfare system due in January, one in March on problems identified by the Child Welfare Ombudsman Christine Alberi and one final report on the whole system scheduled around the end of the year.

Meanwhile, lawmakers are moving forward with reform ideas, including beefing up the ombudsman’s office and adding an inspector general, continuing a program that the Mills administration wants to wind down that outsources handling of lower-risk cases and loosening criteria for when children are considered to be endangered. But solutions will be hard to find, as evidenced by the conversation around problems that have been documented.

The Maine politics top 3

— “Jared Golden says Dems need to better target budget bill to gain his support,” Jessica Piper, Bangor Daily News: “Little progress on the bill has played out in public in the past few weeks as lawmakers in Washington work to reduce its cost after two Democratic senators indicated they would not support the initially proposed $3.5 trillion. Democrats, who hold narrow majorities in both chambers of Congress, effectively need every vote to pass the bill through the budget reconciliation process without Republican support.”

— “Northern Light hospitals are seeing more COVID-19 patients outside of Bangor,” David Marino Jr., BDN: “Though numbers continue to be largely positive for Bangor itself, the increase in hospitalizations in other parts of eastern Maine shows the fluid situation the state faces with the delta variant. After dipping as low as 150 on Oct. 10, hospitalizations again surpassed 200 across the state on Monday. They were at 197 on Thursday, with 71 patients in the ICU and 31 on ventilators.”

Mix and match COVID-19 booster shots are on their way. The approval of mixed shots will likely lead to more vaccines being used in the state while new shots continue to stay low and steady. Here’s what you need to know about them.

— “Maine joins inter-state partnership to better track and update voter rolls,” Steve Mistler, Maine Public: “The Electronic Registration Information Center is a non-profit organization that allows states to exchange data and track whether voters have moved and registered elsewhere or died while in another state.”

Maine officials say joining the consortium will ensure people are able to vote despite a change in circumstance. Secretary of State Shenna Bellows, a Democrat, said the partnership will allow the state to communicate to the other 31 member states, along with Washington, D.C., quickly when someone moves.

Today’s Daily Brief was written by Caitlin Andrews, Jessica Piper and Michael Shepherd. If you’re reading this on the BDN’s website or were forwarded it, you can sign up to have it delivered to your inbox every weekday morning here.

To reach us, do not reply directly to this newsletter, but contact the political team at mshepherd@bangordailynews.com, candrews@bangordailynews.com or jpiper@bangordailynews.com.

Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after three years as a reporter at the Kennebec Journal. A Hallowell native who now lives in Augusta, he graduated from the University of Maine in...