- Associated Press - Thursday, May 24, 2018

AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) - A report released Thursday about Maine’s child protection system cited poor job performance and lack of supervision by a state child welfare agency in the death of an abused child.

A legislative watchdog released the report that focused on the deaths of 10-year-old Marissa Kennedy in February in Stockton Springs, and 4-year-old Kendall Chick in December in Wiscasset.

The report did not say which case suffered from mistakes made by the state Office of Child and Family Services. It stated that the office failed to follow policies in areas such as “staying engaged with the child and family to ensure needed services and supports were provided.”

The much-anticipated report did not include hard recommendations about how to improve child protective services in the state, or much new detail about how the two cases unfolded. That frustrated state Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta, who chairs the Government Oversight Committee that received the report on Thursday.

Katz said state confidentiality laws prevented the watchdog group from shedding more light on the two deaths, which generated a large amount of media attention in Maine.



“Confidentiality laws that are in place here blocked us from doing what we wanted to do in the first place, which is find out what the heck happened,” Katz said. “We do not have a clear picture of what happened and that’s incredibly frustrating.”

The investigation was conducted by the Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability, known as OPEGA. The non-partisan office is designed to monitor and help improve state government functions.

OPEGA Director Beth Ashcroft said the watchdog group will be doing a broader review of the state’s child protective system at large and eventually present recommendations about how to improve it.

Republican Gov. Paul LePage said the state is “carefully reviewing our statutes and systems to ensure that every decision is first and always about the child.” He added that the state must “proceed in a manner that does not jeopardize any pending prosecution so that justice is served for the children who so tragically lost their lives.”

The report was released the day after Marissa Kennedy’s mother, Sharon Carrillo, gave birth to a boy. She and her husband, Julio Carillo, remain in custody, unable to post $500,000 cash bail.

They face charges of depraved indifference murder, and have pleaded guilty. Prosecutors have charged them with beating Marissa regularly for months and trying to cover up her death by making it look like she fell while playing.

The other case concerns the death of Kendall Chick, who was placed in the care of her grandfather, Stephen Hood, by the state. Hood’s fiancée, Shawna Gatto, has pleaded not guilty to a charge of depraved indifference murder in connection with Kendall’s death and is expected to go on trial in the fall.

The report stated that some Office of Child and Family Services policies have been modified following the two deaths. For example, a case will automatically be considered for assessment after three reports of child abuse, the report stated.

Physical abuse of children is on the rise in Maine, where confirmed cases were more than 50 percent higher in 2016 than 2008. State Sen. Bill Diamond, D-Windham, a member of the Government Oversight Committee, said the urgency of the situation makes the slow progress in fixing the system frustrating.

“There’s abuse going on in this state,” he said. “We have to find what it is, given the restrictions we are operating under, to make changes.”

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