The story of Ethan Henderson, the 2 1/2 month infant killed by his father is a tragic, brutal story and is understandably taking Maine readers by storm. The story puts the question front and center: “Are systems that are supposed to be protecting children working the way they should?” Why wasn’t this case put on some kind of “watch” or other intervention when it surfaced several weeks before the child was abused? Why did we allow the murder of this obviously high risk child?
When DHHS is questioned about specifics pertaining to the precautions taken after the child suffered a broken arm and the sister showed signs of abuse, they clam up claiming confidentiality ‘in the best interest of the child’ That is exactly what the Guardian ad litems are able to do when questioned about their communication, reporting and their billing.
At Maine Guardian ad litem Alert (megalalert), we have also experienced a system that fails to truly make “the best interests of the child” central, often neglecting the child’s safety and failing to make child safety a central focus. Though “lip service” is given, GAL investigations, as noted by Maine’s Chief Justice, frequently fail to follow mandatory regulatory statutes. They also fail to follow up on hard evidence of abuse/neglect and rely heavily on hearsay of parents, rather than primary data. As with DHHS, they tend to move with glacial slowness.
For consumer complaints about GAL’s malfunctioning, the complaint process is lengthy, legalistic, expensive and unresponsive. It seems unable to respond quickly to pressing concerns about child health and child safety. Maine’s Chief Justice has indicated to the legislature that the Guardian ad litem system here in Maine has NO oversight. She is holding a hearing on this topic in Portland on May 31st at 4 pm. There is a stated aim to reform the system. We feel strongly that Maine needs a fresh outside look at serious problems of oversight of child safety that have been amply documented several times, but with no action beyond documentation. Outside consultation would seem in order. And … a commitment to corrective action! It is time for Maine to take a look at the handling of “children at risk” in all systems and to take action. The Washington, DC child advocacy organization, “First Star”, gave Maine an “F” for the 3 report cards on their website (their lowest grade) when they rated and gave out report cards to every state on how they protect children and their rights. Many of us think that Maine’s grade of “F” was generous!
For more information about First Star’s report card follow this link:
The latest report card “A Child’s Right to Counsel – 3rd Edition” can be found here.
For more information about Guardian ad litems please contact us at MeGALalert@gmail.com or visit us at MeGALalert.