Kendall Chick would have been 8 years old by now. In 2019, her grandfather’s fiancÃ©, Shawna Gatto, was sentenced to 50 years in prison for the murder of the girl Wiscasset, aged 4, in December 2017. Chick could still have been here if the Department of Health and Maine Social Services had made a final visit to the family, Maine Sen Bill Diamond, D – Windham, and Rep. Jeff Hanley, R – Pittston, said outside the Wiscasset Community Center on Wednesday afternoon the 29th. September.
âI have no doubts that this little girl would be alive today,â said Diamond, who attended Gatto’s trial. “All this brutality didn’t have to happen.”
In college, Diamond, later Maine’s secretary of state, sold worms he dug in the mudflats of Wiscasset. On Wednesday he, Hanley, Diamond’s wife of 53 years, Jane and friends Dennis Ela, who taught at Manchester School in North Windham when Diamond was principal, and the retired Windham businessman Ron Eby were in the WCC lot, in a motorhome that said “Walk a mile in their shoes.” It meant the life and death of Chick and other Maine children killed at the hands of, or in some cases allegedly at, the hands of the family. The names of Chick and eight other people were on shoes on a poster Diamond and Hanley had stuck to the camper van. Camping World of Windham donated the use of the motorhome, Diamond said.
The Wiscasset stop capped the two-day city tour for children. Diamond proposed it – and he plans to register his name with the state for perhaps use again – as he pushes for child welfare reform in Maine. He’s been trying for two decades. He said he was in his last year in the legislature and wanted to be successful on the issue while he was still a lawmaker.
âWe’re trying to keep awareness highâ¦ that’s enough. The system is down … we’re trying to say, ‘Please admit it so we can fix it,’ âsaid Diamond. âThey say, ‘We’re going to improve our improvements.’ Well, I’m sorry, but I heard this, âhe said across multiple jurisdictions. “And it didn’t happen.”
Hanley added: “Many years of the same behavior over and over again.” He supports Diamond’s lawsuit to break down DHHS child protection in a separate agency. This bill died last year and it plans a similar one, Diamond said.
Hanley also took part in the penultimate stop of the tour, in Chelsea, in memory of Logan Marr.
Attendance at each stop ranged from one figure to around 20 people, not counting those who honked their car or rolled down their car windows and waved when the group carried signs as they walked past the camper van under escort of law enforcement, including on the way to the WCC, group members said. In some towns, including Wiscasset, officers told the group they participated in appeals at the children’s death scenes.
The only participants in the 2 p.m. Wiscasset stop were two reporters. Diamond blamed himself because he had to move it two hours. The Wiscasset newspaper received an email with the time change shortly after 8 a.m. and advertised it on the newspaper’s website and Facebook page.
Diamond said the lack of attendees in Wiscasset and the size of turnout at the other stops didn’t deter him “in the least”; and the waves of motorists and car horns peeping out everywhere, including Highway 27 in Wiscasset for the camper and group, cheered him on. The same goes for helping law enforcement, involving the media at every stop, which he says will help keep the issue on the minds of the Mainers; and the involvement of legislators from both sides of the aisle. He and the rest of the group said they had seen over the course of the two days, the people of Maine felt the system was in need of fixing.
âEveryone who came out was very passionate about the cause,â Eby said. âIt’s hard, like everything, to get people to stop what they’re doing and get out, and we understand that. But (this tour) gets the message across.
The Wiscasset newspaper has contacted DHHS spokesperson Jackie Farwell to comment on the group’s remarks in Wiscasset. Farwell responded, âWe care deeply about the safety and well-being of children and strive to do everything possible to learn from recent child deaths and improve our approach to child protection. The death of a child is a tragic loss – for that child’s future, their family, their community and our state.
To this end, DHHS is partnering with Casey Family Programs to assess departmental policies and practices “to support the safety of children and families as we continue our broader work to improve the child protection system, with the legislature and many other stakeholders, âsaid Farwell. âThe DHHS Child and Family Services Office has embarked on a comprehensive system-wide assessment that has informed improvement efforts over the past few years. This includes the recent federal approval of our Family First plan to protect children and strengthen families. “
Farwell said the DHHS has created more than 70 child welfare jobs since 2018 and has increased the number of foster homes by almost 30% since 2019. Staff turnover has increased by a close range. from 23% in 2018 to 15% last year, largely due to increased compensation, staffing and training and the focus on the well-being of the workforce and âStudying and understandingâ the impact of child protection workload on staffing needs, she said.
Farwell added that the Muskie School of Public Service at the University of Southern Maine has helped DHHS review and update policies, draft new ones, and strengthen training.
Jane Diamond said she was proud of her husband’s tour and her years working on the issue.