Wednesday, January 26, 2011

GUEST BLOG: Foster care in Maine: More on one state’s transformation

UPDATE, JAN 28: The Associated Press also has an excellent story on the Maine reforms.

In a previous post to this Blog concerning the enormous progress in the state of Maine, I wrote that: “An independent office of child welfare ombudsman was created, under the auspices of a leading state child advocacy group, the Maine Children’s Alliance.

The ombudsman has asked me to share with you his perspective on the changes.  Here’s his comment:


Thank you for voicing your concern for the well-being of children in Maine who are involved in the child welfare system in the recent NCCPR blog “Foster Care in America: The Day Child Welfare Changed? (Part Two).” We appreciate that you recognize the work that the Maine Children’s Alliance’s ombudsman program has done to help improve the system.

Since 2003, the Maine Child Welfare Services Ombudsman Program has worked closely with the
Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), reviewing department decisions when callers raise concerns and providing recommendations on ways the department can streamline and improve practices. We are always looking for better situations for children and families, and more cost-savings and efficiency within the system to re-invest in community support and early intervention.

As you have noted, it is in the best interest of a child to keep him/her in the home and with the family whenever possible and safe to do so. Caseworkers now emphasize this goal as they work closely with families, ensuring they receive the supports and services necessary to keep the child safe and the family intact. Reducing the rate of children who are placed in state care or custody has been a significant achievement of our program. In December 2004, there were 2,590 Maine children in DHHS state care or custody. In December 2009, the number in care or custody dropped to 1,650. During this time period, Maine saw a 38.3 percent decrease in the rate of children in DHHS care or custody.

Kinship Care placements enable children to live with people they know and trust, creating a sense of stability and continuity. Over the last six years, Kinship Care has become a preferred placement practice of DHHS. The steady increase in Kinship Care placement is a notably positive trend. In 2004, of the 831 initial placements of children into state care or custody, 146 (17.6%) were Kinship Care. In 2009, of the 777 initial placements of children into state care or custody, 302 (38.9%) were Kinship Care. Not only is Kinship Care placement less disruptive to the child, it is also less costly to the system. There has been a dramatic decline in Residential Care costs for children in state custody from 2004 to 2010, with the state share of residential care costs declining by 86 percent.

For more information about the Ombudsman Program, I encourage you to visit the Maine Children’s Alliance website at

Dean Crocker
President/CEO and Ombudsman
Maine Children’s Alliance