Home visiting programs are a worthy investment for Maine. By informing and supporting new parents, home visitors can help to increase moms’ access to prenatal care, reduce infants’ exposure to secondhand smoke, increase the chance infants have up-to-date immunizations, catch developmental delays and diagnose postpartum depression.

Their visits can also help with breastfeeding, prevent unintended pregnancies, improve home safety and thus lower the chances a baby will get hurt, protect children from abuse and neglect, and increase a family’s self-sufficiency.

Especially at a time when the percentage of families living in deep poverty in Maine is increasing, it makes sense to invest in efforts that can help them, such as public health nursing, Maine Families home visiting and Early Head Start home visiting. It makes sense for all of Maine’s home visiting programs to work together to expand their reach and make sure families get the right services at the right time.

So it’s deeply discouraging that the state has made decisions that could undermine the difficult and important work of Maine’s home visitors.

The Maine Department of Health and Human Services awarded a substantial sum — nearly $23 million over 2 ½ years — to the nonprofit Maine Children’s Trust to oversee financial management of the home visiting program Maine Families with no competitive bidding process, under what appears to be a false pretense of “an emergency.” What’s more, the trust’s new duties — which will involve reviewing, approving and monitoring 12 local home visiting agencies’ budgets and disbursing their funding — weren’t communicated in-depth to the trust’s full board.

The lack of transparency and accountability do not instill confidence in the state or the trust’s leadership of this badly needed program and may do harm to the people working on the ground.

There are steps the state could take to start to restore that confidence. DHHS Commissioner Mary Mayhew could order a review of how her department awarded a contract because of an “emergency” — when, in fact, it had been working to set up an arrangement with the trust for a minimum of nine months prior. But that’s unlikely, given that Mayhew signed off on the request for the contract.

Normally, a governor would push for some type of remedy, but the contract was approved by his attorneys. And his office has been silent.

If anything will be done, it must be done by lawmakers. They have a handful of possible courses of action:

— The Legislature, through its nonpartisan Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability, could conduct an investigation into the real reasons why DHHS quietly transferred financial oversight of Maine Families to the nonprofit sector.

— Legislators could pass a law requiring that requests for noncompetitive, sole-source contracts be advertised beyond an obscure Division of Purchases’ website. Doing so would give potential vendors a greater chance of seeing the notices and letting the state know it has more than one option, necessitating competitive procurement.

Ideally, lawmakers, DHHS and home visiting staff members — including those from public health nursing, Maine Families and Early Head Start — would sit down and figure out how best they can work together and make these important programs as strong as ever. But cooperation is unlikely given the current climate in Augusta. In the absence of a collaborative spirit, it will be up to the Legislature to, at a minimum, ensure questionable contracting doesn’t happen again.

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The BDN Editorial Board

The Bangor Daily News editorial board members are Publisher Richard J. Warren, Editorial Page Editor Susan Young, Assistant Editorial Page Editor Matt Junker and BDN President Todd Benoit. Young has worked...