Maine’s state child welfare services are delivered by Child Welfare Services within the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Child and Family Services.
- Assessing reports of child abuse and/or neglect
- Working with families to ensure child safety
- Placing children in foster care when there is jeopardy
- Seeking to find permanency for children in foster care through reunifying with family or finding a permanent family through adoption or guardianship for children who cannot be reunified with their family
Since 1999, the Maine Office of Child and Family Services (OCFS) and tribal child welfare staff and community members have worked together to improve state compliance with the federal Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA). Despite a strong mistrust and the lack of effective working relationships between the tribes and the state, they undertook this work and have grappled with how to make changes.
“When I was asked to join a committee to plan the (ICWA) training, I felt like I was sitting with the enemy (the state people). It took a while to get comfortable.”
– Denise Altvater
The tribal-state collaboration grew strong and achieved tangible successes in its decade of work. Its members brought their values, beliefs, biases and unique life experiences into the process. The tribal members have involved their whole selves in the work as they note that this work is not just a job – the survival of their community, tribe and culture are all at stake. The OCFS members have had a different experience, and at times have felt conflicted when what was expected of them as employees contrasted with who they wanted to be in relation to their Wabanaki colleagues. At the core of the process are the value of relationships and the effort to create and maintain humanity within those relationships.
Together, this tribal-state collaboration determined that the only way to create lasting change would be to have a thorough recognition and acknowledgement of the past through a truth and reconciliation commission.
Key OCFS staff who have been and remain champions of this work are Program Administrator and ICWA Liaison Martha Proulx and Manager of Quality Improvement Theresa Dube – both members of Maine-Wabanaki REACH. Current and former OCFS staff will likely provide information to the Commission during its truth-seeking activities. At the conclusion of the TRC process, it is hoped that the Commission’s final report will provide recommendations that may further improve the state’s practice with Native families and children.
“The value of this truth and reconciliation [process] is that it is a true partnership that we are undertaking as equals. It is a government-to-government effort to understand what happened; to promote healing for Wabanaki communities; and to improve child welfare practice.”
– Martha Proulx, OCFS