Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew takes a question at a news conference in the State House, Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2019, in Augusta. Credit: Robert F. Bukaty / AP

AUGUSTA, Maine — The Maine Department of Health and Human Services has begun proactively informing a state ombudsman of child deaths reported to the state after being criticized for resisting the watchdog’s recommendations.

Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew told a legislative panel on Wednesday that the department had informed child welfare ombudsman Christine Alberi of the death of Sylus Melvin, a 1-month-old boy police said was killed by his father, Reginald Melvin, in Milo on Sunday. It was the fourth death of a child allegedly at the hands of a parent this summer in Maine.

Those deaths have spurred fresh scrutiny of the department. Two members of the ombudsman’s board of directors quit in July, arguing the state had ignored Alberi’s recommendations for years. The “newly formalized” process was meant to increase transparency, Lambrew said. Alberi confirmed the department informed her of Sylus’ death.

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Maine’s willingness to work with the ombudsman, who is charged with reviewing cases and fielding questions about the Office of Child and Family Services, became a main criticism this summer. Alberi said the state did not communicate with her as frequently as she would have liked and has been critical of how Maine characterized improvements in the system.

She has said Maine needs to bolster its training around initial and reunification safety assessments, which state officials have disputed. The tipping point for the two board members came when Alberi requested information on two of the child deaths that occured in June, something the department initially resisted before agreeing to work with the ombudsman.

The state is ramping up its review of the deaths. It partnered with Casey Family Programs to investigate the current system and recommend improvements that are due by October. The Legislature’s watchdog committee greenlit an additional review last month with a focus on issues Alberi raised, as well as Maine’s overall insight into its system. The first of those legislative reports is due in January.