A child welfare caseworker for the Maine Department of Health and Human Services is pictured in Portland on Feb. 21, 2020. Credit: Callie Ferguson / BDN

AUGUSTA, Maine — Maine’s child welfare system needs additional improvements, according to an annual report.

The Maine Child Welfare Services Ombudsman said in the report that more than half of child welfare cases reviewed had “substantial issues.” The ombudsman also cited an overall “downward trend” in child welfare practices.

The ombudsman is an independent reviewer of the Maine Office of Child and Family Services. It reviewed   more than 80 cases involving more than 160 children, the Portland Press Herald reported.

The report stated that in multiple cases the Office of Child and Family Services failed to gather enough information to determine whether a child was safe to remain in a home. It also said the office sometimes failed to recognize risk to a child.

The Office of Child and Family Services said in a written response that the agency “has continued to advance policies, training and support for staff that seeks to aid them in navigating the careful balance of the potential negative and positive impacts of removal and reunification decisions.”

Maine officials have sought to reform child protective services in the state. The state had the   highest recorded number of child deaths in 2021.