In this Dec. 7, 2022, file photo, the State House glows in an evening fog in Augusta. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

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Maine Senate Republicans held a press conference on Jan. 17, where we outlined a comprehensive legislative agenda to fix the issues plaguing the Maine Office of Child and Family Services and separate it from its parent agency, the Department of Health and Human Services.

During the briefing, we discussed how the recent report by Maine Child Welfare Services Ombudsman Christine Alberi indicated nothing has changed within OCFS. In fact, it showed things have only gotten worse. Of the 84 child welfare cases her office examined, half had “substantial issues” in how they were handled by OCFS. This led her to summarize that last year continued “to show a downward trend in child welfare” across Maine.

The report clearly shows OCFS is losing ground in how it determines child safety, especially in how it recognizes child risk when making decisions about reunification. The Legislature’s watchdog, the Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability, made the same conclusion in its report last year.

And let’s not forget what led us here: Four children with some sort of child protective history died within weeks of each other in 2021, the deadliest year on record since tracking began with 29 deaths.

But that’s not the worst part. The same day we held our press conference to talk about efforts to save children’s lives, Gov. Janet Mills and Democratic legislative leaders held one as well to outline their plans to expand abortion access to end them.

Talk about a tale of two State Houses!

Sen. Peter Lyford