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Maine Gets Federal Approval for Plan to Strengthen Families and Keep Children Out of Foster Care

The plan comes after multiple reviews of the state's welfare industry

Maine received Federal approval on its plan to transform the state’s child welfare services and strengthen families.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) approved $2.4 million a year in federal funding for the Family First Plan. The money will be used for expanded mental health services, substance use treatment, as well as educational and employment support. Additionally, the plan includes programs designed to improve parenting skills.

“Every Maine child deserves the opportunity to grow up in a safe and healthy environment,” Gov. Janet Mills said in a statement. “The approval of Maine’s Family First Plan will provide unprecedented federal support to advance important reforms to the state’s child welfare system and protect Maine children from abuse and neglect.”

Maine’s DHHS Office of Child and Family Services (OCFS) submitted the plan in February. 

Bangor Daily News reports, “the approval comes as the state child welfare system has been under renewed scrutiny since four Maine children have allegedly been killed by parents since the start of June.”

The expanded funding is provided under a 2018 federal budget signed by then-President Donald Trump, which was hailed as the most extensive overhaul of foster care in decades,” reports The Center Square

“Family First, signed into law as part of the Federal Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018, realigned and expanded Federal funding to states aimed at keeping children safely with their families and out of foster care,” the Governor’s office said in a statement. “The law supports intervention services that recognize children succeed in safe and stable families with parents who have access to strong community supports. Family First also provides funding for programs that promote quality prevention services, including trauma-informed, evidence-based interventions to mitigate the need for foster care placements.”

The plan aims to keep families together, limit how long children are cared for in institutional settings like group homes, and improve parental ability to safely care for children.

Todd Landry, director of OCFS, said in a statement, “Under this plan, we will further improve our programs and expand prevention services with the goal of safe, stable, happy, and healthy children and families in Maine.”

“All children should grow up in safe, stable and nurturing families … The federal Family First Act represents an historic opportunity to achieve this vision by giving child welfare systems the tools and ongoing funding they need to prevent abuse and neglect and improve the lives of children and families who can remain safely together with the appropriate support,” said Jeanne Lambrew, commissioner of the Maine Department of Health and Human Services.

“In fiscal year 2019, substance use by parents was a factor in 51 percent of all child welfare removals and 20 percent of all infants taken into state custody were either born addicted to drugs or were exposed as a newborn. The most common substances identified by caseworkers were alcohol and heroin, according to the report,” reports The Press Herald

The Department of Health and Human Services reported in March that the foster care population increased by more than 10% between 2012 and 2016 across the country.

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