The Maine Department of Health and Human Services offices on State Street in Augusta, shown in this December 2017 file photo. Credit: Darren Fishell / BDN

AUGUSTA, Maine — The Maine Legislature’s watchdog panel voted Wednesday to subpoena the Department of Health and Human Services for the child welfare case files of four Maine children who were allegedly killed by their parents in the summer of 2021.

Maine DHHS denied a request by lawmakers to turn over case files for children who allegedly died by abuse last year, citing concerns that doing so could jeopardize ongoing criminal investigations. DHHS also argued disclosing those records isn’t required under state law.

The committee is investigating potential failures in the programs meant to keep kids safe.

In July, the Government Oversight Committee requested the Department share with members of the committee the case files for 6-week-old Jaden Harding, 3-year-old Hailey Goding, 3-year-old Maddox Williams and 1-month-old Sylus Melvin.

All four children died in the summer of 2021, and in all four cases a parent has been charged with murder or manslaughter in connection with the child’s death.

The Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability, which aids the committee in their work, will have access to these files. Committee members themselves will not unless the committee is successful in legally challenging DHHS’ decision.

On Tuesday, the committee voted unanimously to direct OPEGA to request and begin review of these four records, as well as to review a random sampling of other child protection case files from the past 18 months.

The committee also voted to subpoena DHHS for the four case files in question in order to allow committee members to review them in an executive session at their next scheduled meeting on Oct. 19.

The department will review the subpoena and “respond appropriately,” said Jackie Farwell, a DHHS spokesperson. 

“In the meantime, the Department will continue to advance the important work of improving the child welfare system to support Maine children and families,” she said.

BDN editor Mike Shepherd contributed to this report.