"Poor job performance": OPEGA report reveals new details in child abuse cases

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AUGUSTA, Maine (WABI) - The Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability, or OPEGA, released a nine page report Thursday on their investigation into DHHS and its handling of two child abuse related deaths.

Although they didn't specify which case, OPEGA believes poor job performance and inadequate supervision were contributing factors in the death of at least one of the children.

"We do not have a clear picture of what's happened, and that's incredibly frustrating," Senator Roger Katz, (R) Chair of the Government Oversight Committee.

Members of the Government Oversight Committee were left with more questions than answers following a two month long investigation into the deaths of two Maine children.

"In one case, we observed that the Office of Child and Family Services failed to follow its own policies and procedures," Beth Ashcroft, OPEGA Director.

"We have miserably failed these kids," said Senator Katz.

10-year-old Marissa Kennedy of Stockton Springs and 4-year-old Kendall Chick of Wiscasset died only two months apart after what authorities say was months of abuse and neglect.

"I don't want to wait another six months, or another five months, or another month before we say we're going to at least step up and stop some of this," said Senator Bill Diamond (D) of the Government Oversight Committee. "We know enough, we can do something."

The report released by OPEGA, a legislative watchdog, shed light on the way in which DHHS handled the cases involving the two girls.

'It seems on a few occasions, when individuals observed actual physical marks that might otherwise have indicated physical child abuse, one or both of the adults in the home explained them as injuries the children themselves are responsible for causing," said Ashcroft.

One lawmaker questioned the priorities of the Child and Family Protection Act, specifically the goal of reunifying families after a child has been removed from a home.

"If we had that goal in terms of reunification for couples who experienced domestic violence, we would be considered neanderthals."

"When major events like this happen in Marissa's death and Kendall's death, it highlights faulty areas of the system."

Former DHHS caseworker Mark Moran was not surprised by the findings.

"I think caseworkers are overwhelmed on a daily basis," said Moran. "Certainly some days are better than others, but the workload never stops."

But what this report does show is a need for reform, not only in the department, but the way in which information is shared among school districts, law enforcement, and the department when suspected abuse is reported.

Shawna Gatto, the fiancee of Kendall Chick's grandfather, has been charged with her murder.

Sharon and Julio Carrillo are currently facing murder charges in connection to death of their daughter, Marissa Kennedy.

Sharon's attorney Chris MacLean says the findings of the OPEGA report are completely disconnected from reality, adding the department needs to prioritize their resources to save the lives of children.

Governor LePage says our children deserve a system that works in their best interests, adding "The questions and concerns raised by OPEGA largely mirror those identified in the administration's internal review. DHHS has already made several reforms in the way child welfare cases are handled."

DHHS Commissioner Ricker Hamilton echoed the Governor's sentiments, saying in part, "I am eager for the time when the criminal investigations have concluded and additional information will be available for the public. I agree with the advice of the Attorney General that nothing should jeopardize justice for these two victims."

A public comment period will be held next Thursday giving folks the opportunity to weigh in on the findings in this report.