Maine’s ‘Family First’ Foster Child Welfare Offers Reforms

In fiscal year 2019, substance use by parents was a factor in 51 percent of all child welfare removals and 20 percent of all infants taken into state custody were either born addicted to drugs or were exposed as a newborn. The most common substances identified by caseworkers were alcohol and heroin, according to the report.

The federal government has approved a child welfare reform plan from the Mills [Maine] administration that aims to expand prevention and treatment services available to families in order to keep children out of foster care.

Maine was the first state in New England to submit and to receive federal approval of a five-year plan to align Maine’s child welfare programs with the Family First Prevention Services Act.

Passed by Congress in 2018, the Family First Prevention Services Act aims to reduce the number of children entering foster care by providing at-risk parents and families with support services such as mental health counseling, substance use treatment and in-home parental skills counseling. The Family First also requires participating states to better support children who end up with “relative caregivers” and to improve standards for residential programs for children requiring treatment for emotional or behavioral issues.

According to the administration of Gov. Janet Mills, the federal approval means Maine will receive $2.4 million annually from the federal government for “evidence-based services proven to keep children safe while preventing the need for them to enter state custody.”

“All children should grow up in safe, stable and nurturing families,” Jeanne Lambrew, commissioner of the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, said in a statement. “The federal Family First Act represents an historic opportunity achieve this vision by giving child welfare systems the tools and ongoing funding they need to prevent abuse and neglect and improve the lives of children and families who can remain safely together with the appropriate support.”

Enactment of the federal law in 2018 coincided with a period of intense scrutiny of Maine’s child welfare system in response to the high-profile deaths of 4-year-old Kendall Chick of Wiscasset and 10-year-old Marissa Kennedy of Stockton Springs…

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