March 29, 2013

Poor planning adds to Maine's foster care crisis

Not only is funding in jeopardy, but the state's child welfare bureaucracy failed to anticipate the growing need, fueled by drug use and addiction.

By Kelley Bouchard
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 3)

click image to enlarge

Marie Beaulieu comforts her son Shavar, 8, in their Jay home late last month, after he apologized for yelling at her. The Beaulieus adopted him after taking him in as a foster child.

Photos by Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer

click image to enlarge

Additional Photos Below

Limited to two years, the chart doesn't allow comparison to previous years or identification of possible trends. It doesn't specify the types of drugs that parents used, if that information was known, or show links among risk factors, such as neglect cases that resulted from substance abuse.

Broader social, educational, health and economic factors, other than inadequate housing, were excluded from the survey of risk factors. Some risk factors, such as "neglect" and "unable to cope," are so broad they lack real meaning.

Overall, the survey was subjective and unscientific. Blanchard, the data chief, said the numbers were gleaned from caseworkers' reports over the last two years. As a result, he acknowledged, risk factors could have been wrongly identified, included or excluded from the survey, depending on each caseworker's awareness, accuracy and attention to detail.

Other factors also could be driving up the number and cost of children in the system, Blanchard said, including reduced family reunification and adoption rates and children's individual special needs.

The state reimburses foster parents at six different rates, ranging from $16.50 to $65.62 per day, depending on each child's behavioral and health needs, from minimal to severe.

The system has taken in more children than it has discharged in 15 of the last 18 months.


Maine's child welfare system cost $120 million in fiscal 2012, including central office administration, caseworkers and nonprofit foster care agencies contracted by the state, according to Blanchard.

That works out to about $63,000 for each of the 1,907 children who spent at least one day in care during the budget year that ended June 30, 2012.

The increasing demand for and cost of foster care follows a period of recognized improvement in Maine's system, including greater emphasis on placing children with relatives. So-called kinship care accounted for 32 percent of 1,829 children in state care in February, up from 14 percent of 3,082 children in November 2003, when the state started keeping track.

Maine's foster care entry rate, reflecting the number of kids entering the system each year, dropped from three children per 1,000 in 2007 to two children per 1,000 in 2011, according to the federal Administration for Children and Families. From 2002 to 2010, the number of children in care on the last day of the federal fiscal year decreased by 22 percent.

Maine was No. 25 in the 2012 Right for Kids Ranking of state child welfare systems published by the Foundation for Government Accountability, moving up 14 places from No. 39 in 2006.

The ranking, based on 2010 data, recognized Maine's efforts to provide safe, stable foster homes, reduce the number of children in foster care and promote adoption. However, the state was found lacking when it comes to preventing kids from entering the system, promoting family reunification and helping teenagers in the system.

Maine's improvement mirrored a national trend and came several years after the 2001 death of 5-year-old Logan Marr of Chelsea, whose foster mother, Sally Schofield, a former state caseworker, was convicted of manslaughter for asphyxiating the girl with duct tape.

The recent increase in children in care comes as Cahill-Low said she has begun to overhaul agency contracting practices to meet federal guidelines, address a shortage of foster care parents for children with special needs and review programs to make sure children are getting necessary care.

She's especially concerned about the estimated 35 young people across Maine who are technically in state custody but don't have permanent placements, so they're living on the street, in homeless shelters or "couch surfing" among friends.

"That, to me, is one of our most difficult challenges," Cahill-Low said.

(Continued on page 5)

Were you interviewed for this story? If so, please fill out our accuracy form

Send question/comment to the editors

Additional Photos

click image to enlarge

Shavar dances with his sister.

click image to enlarge

Shavar smiles as his nurse, Darlene Hayden, shows him her teeth after she returned from the dentist.

click image to enlarge

Marie Beaulieu helps Shavar wash his hands. In January, DHHS officials reported a $4.2 million shortfall in the budget for foster care and adoption programs. By June 30, the number of kids in state care is expected to be 35 percent higher than projected.

click image to enlarge

Marie Beaulieu, left, helps Shavar drink from a cup of water to take medication in the living room of their Jay home. Some adoptive foster parents in Maine will lose 25 percent of their adoption subsidy as a result of a supplemental state budget passed in February.

click image to enlarge


Further Discussion

Here at we value our readers and are committed to growing our community by encouraging you to add to the discussion. To ensure conscientious dialogue we have implemented a strict no-bullying policy. To participate, you must follow our Terms of Use.

Questions about the article? Add them below and we’ll try to answer them or do a follow-up post as soon as we can. Technical problems? Email them to us with an exact description of the problem. Make sure to include:
  • Type of computer or mobile device your are using
  • Exact operating system and browser you are viewing the site on (TIP: You can easily determine your operating system here.)