When we think of children in Maine, the belief tends to be that it is the job of the parent(s) to protect their children from a variety of things including maltreatment, abuse and neglect. When parents struggle to care for and protect their children from physical and emotional harm, people are likely to point to Maine’s Department of Health and Human Services and its role in protecting vulnerable children. The most recent annual data from DHHS states, “of the 18,615 reports received in 2015, 10,623 met the criteria for child protection intervention.”

There is an approach in Maine called Community Partnerships for Protecting Children. This approach has been gaining momentum in Maine for several years and is about to take a leap forward. To augment six existing community/neighborhood models, DHHS contracted with providers to expand the approach within the state.

Broadreach Family & Community Services has been chosen to lead the CPPC in District 4, Waldo, Knox, Lincoln and Sagadahoc counties. CPPC will support existing community networks serving families, and increase the number of partnerships to address challenges and policies that may be contributing to high levels of risk of abuse and neglect within families.

While one aspect of CPPC is to analyze and plan for improvements for all residents at risk for experiencing child maltreatment, families who are at high risk will be supported through convening preventive family team meetings and developing plans with their team to meet their goals and thereby reduce risk.

The project will increase access to and use of community support services by families at risk. A majority of families served will experience an increase in “protective factors” and “promotive” family attributes. The projected result is an increase in family self-sufficiency.

Ilene Ford, Child Welfare Program administrator for DHHS District 4, references information from the department’s website: “By transforming the relationship between the Child Protective Services and communities through the development of a child-welfare continuum of care, vulnerable families and their children are better served to reduce abuse and neglect. At its essence, CPPC is a collective impact model, designed with the understanding that the traditional child welfare model cannot, and should not, be the sole structure responsible for keeping children safe. By working together with families, everyone has better outcomes.”

The CPPC philosophy is fairly simple: “We all want our children to be safe. We know that life is complex, and that life’s challenges can get in the way of being the best parents we can be. We partner to support families who are experiencing the highest levels of stress, before things get out of control. And when life has already gotten complicated, we are here to walk beside each family member, to help them get back on their feet. We know that preventing child abuse is not simply a matter of parents doing a better job, but about creating communities in which doing better is easier. Together, we help solve problems so parents can focus on raising healthy, thriving children.”

Many community members, organizations, professionals, school districts and others have been steadily coming forward to sign a partnership agreement and to place in nomination the names of individuals who will be invited to form a Community Leadership Committee, the strategic arm of the CPPC. Current identified partners include: Belfast Adult Education, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Mid-Maine, Catholic Charities of Maine, Child Development Services, Coastal Kids Preschool, Coastal Healthcare Alliance, Five Town CSD, G.E.A.R. Parent Network, Healthy Kids, Islesboro Central School, Kennebec Behavioral Health, Knox County Community Health Coalition, Maine Families – Waldo County, Midcoast Recovery Coalition, New Hope For Women, Penobscot Bay YMCA, Penquis CAP, Regional School Units 3 and 12, Sequel Care Maine, Sexual Assault Support Services of Midcoast Maine, Spurwink, Sweetser, Union 69, Waldo County Community Action Partners, Waldo County Sheriff’s Office, and Katherine Box, LCSW.

Data from Maine DHHS for a five-year period between 2009 and 2015 reveals that in families who have been “substantiated” (found responsible) for child abuse or neglect, there have been some easily identified stressors. Those identified include: mental health, domestic violence, pregnancy/new child, drug misuse by caregiver, unstable living conditions, court involvement and heavy childcare responsibility. In that five-year period, DHHS completed “assessments” in all four of the Midcoast counties — 1,381 in Knox, 993 in Waldo, 571 in Lincoln and 381 in Sagadahoc.

Research conducted by the Center for the Study of Social Policy has led to the identification of five protective factors that keep families safe: parental resilience, social connections, knowledge of parenting and child development, concrete support in times of need, and social emotional competence of children. Our collectively identified strategies in this project most likely will address steps needed to increase the presence of these protective factors in the lives of families.

As a community partnership, we believe in including community representatives who want to play a part in this effort regardless of their training or status. People with the experience of struggles in their own families are especially encouraged to participate.

For more information and to learn how to participate, contact Patrick Walsh at Broadreach, 338-6679 or pwalsh@brmaine.org.