Contact: Charles Siler
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: NEW BILL EMPOWERS MAINE COMMUNITIES TO HELP FAMILIES IN CRISIS
BILL CREATING EARLY INTERVENTION ALTERNATIVE PASSES LEGISLATURE
Families experiencing a short-term crisis in Maine now have a new place to turn for help, their own communities, thanks to a bill just signed into law by Gov. Paul LePage that enjoyed bi-partisan support in the Legislature. The bill is modeled after a program known as “Safe Families for Children” which has successfully helped tens of thousands of families across the country navigate temporary problems since 2002.
LD 1065 creates a safe haven for children in need, providing a stable environment that shields them from neglect while their families resolve issues ranging from unemployment, homelessness, hospitalization, or even brief incarceration. One of the major things that makes this program different from foster care is that the parents retain full rights throughout the process and the state is uninvolved. This enables communities to address problems earlier than the state legally could, and it allows families to solve problems before they get out of control, resulting in faster family reunifications.
“Too often we see families broken up and children placed in foster care because their parents had to deal with a short-term crisis, like job loss, hospitalization, or temporary homelessness, and we knew there had to be a better way to do things,” said Rep. Deborah Sanderson (R-District 88), lead sponsor of LD 1065 and a champion for Maine’s children.
“Struggling parents are afraid to admit they need help because they don’t want to lose their kids, but then their problems grow and the state is left with no choice but to step in. By empowering local families to volunteer they can help parents navigate their issues while giving Maine’s children a safe home to live in while the crisis is resolved.”
While foster care is a vital tool in protecting Maine’s children, many social workers are burdened with huge and unmanageable caseloads, leaving children exposed. This bill will allow families in need to connect with trained and vetted host families to resolve their own problems, which will lighten the load for state Office of Child and Family Services social workers who can now focus more serious cases involving abusive neglect and physical or sexual abuse.
“Maine families facing difficult circumstances now have another reason to hope for a better future. Thanks to LD 1065 and the work of groups like Safe Families for Children, families in need have more community resources to turn to when times get tough without the fear and complexity that can sometimes accompany involvement with government and child protective services,” said Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew.
“This bill also gives front-line OCFS caseworkers another tool that they can use to support at risk and vulnerable families to prevent child abuse and neglect.”
Local child and family advocates also celebrated the bill’s signing, excited that they now have a legal framework for their support of those in need in their communities.
“LD 1065 gives recognition to isolated parents who are struggling to provide for their children,” said Robin Chamberlain, Director of Safe Families for Children Maine. “We affirm their efforts to reach out to their neighbors through Safe Families for Children and ask for support without being seen as neglectful or as uncaring parents abandoning their children, but rather loving parents doing everything they can to keep their children safe.”
Carroll Conley and the Christian Civic League of Maine played a large role in advocating for passage of LD 1065 and hopes that this new option will help children grow up in a safer environment and experience less separation from their families.
“It was an honor to partner with the Foundation for Government Accountability on behalf of Safe Families here in Maine,” said Conley. “I look forward to seeing families in our state reap the benefits of the legal protections LD 1065 affords to them as they seek help through Safe Families. This process affirmed that people from different political perspectives can find common ground and do what is best for some of our most vulnerable citizens.”
Joining Rep. Sanderson were co-sponsors Senators David Burns (R-District 6), Amy Volk (R-District 30) along with seven others, demonstrating the bill’s wide support in the Legislature.