The ways we fail children continue to multiply

“We have failed these kids.”

Those were the words of state Sen. Roger Katz, a Republican from Augusta, during a hearing on an investigation of the Maine Department of Health and Human Services about the death of two children.

But the words ring true far beyond the tragic deaths of two children who were abused in Maine.

It’s true about the more than 1,400 immigrant children who have been “lost” while in the care of the federal government.

It’s true of the kids who are being separated from their parents at the US border on the orders of President Donald Trump and US Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

It’s true of the children who we lock up in prison.

It’s true of the one in five kids who face hunger in Maine.

And it’s true every day when we send our kids to school, where they have to practice active shooter drills and are at risk of gun violence.

Kennebunk police officers clear a classroom during an active shooter drill at Kennebunk Elementary School in March. (John Carden | York County Coast Star)

We have failed these kids.

And we continue to fail them no matter how many times the tragedies and dangers are brought to our attention.

I don’t want to put words in Katz’ mouth. He was talking only about an Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability investigation into the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Child and Family Services.

OPEGA investigated the deaths of 10-year-old Marissa Kennedy and 4-year-old Kendall Chick. While the report left many questions unanswered and was pretty vague, the top line findings were damning: The department did its job poorly, without appropriate supervision.

Katz’ words resonated, maybe because they were so simple and so obvious and maybe because they so precisely convey our failures to protect and care for children in so many different ways.

A report from the Board of Visitors for Long Creek Youth Development Center – which the state apparently tried to keep hidden from reporters – called for a comprehensive review of the way we treat troubled kids and for an immediate audit of the private corporation, which is supposed to provide medical care to the kids at Long Creek.

The report is just the last of many cataloging the steady decline in the care kids receive in the criminal justice system, including not receiving the medical care and education services that are required by law.

The majority of kids who end up at Long Creek have one or more mental health issues. Once they’re locked up, they aren’t given the care or the education they deserve. We have failed them. We know it and yet, we continue to let them down.

A little farther from home, we learned last week the US Department of Health and Human Services last year lost track of 1,475 immigrant children in its care.

We, our country, lost 1,475 children.

These kids arrived in the United States as unaccompanied minors in 2017, a now it’s anyone’s guess where they have ended up.

Republican US Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, according to the Washington Post, cited one case in which eight immigrant children were turned over to human traffickers.

“These kids, regardless of their immigration status, deserve to be treated properly, not abused or trafficked,” Portman said. “This is all about accountability.”

And while the situation is different, we also know that parents who cross the US border illegally with their children are having their kids taken from them, by federal agents with little or no experience with children, and with little confidence that the US government can actually take care of them.

It’s the official policy of the Trump administration to undertake this immoral policy as a deterrent to illegal immigration.

As the Houston Chronicle reported last week, for many families seeking asylum, they are broken apart with little way to be reunited. One parent was told only that his toddler was “somewhere in Texas.”

And finally, more students have been killed at school this year than US service members in combat. And yet, we have done very little to combat gun violence in our country.

We have failed these kids.

In Paris, a stranger risked his own life to climb up the outside of a building to save a toddler dangling on a balcony. Recently, a hero rushed a killer at a Waffle House to save the lives of people he didn’t know. A teacher disarmed a school shooter in Indianapolis.

As people – as individuals – it seems we are capable of great acts of courage to save other people, particularly kids.

But as a society, we’re coming up woefully short even on what should be easy problems, such as making sure kids have food and get health care.

We have failed these kids. And we are continuing to fail them.


David Farmer

About David Farmer

David Farmer is a political and media consultant in Portland, where he lives with his wife and two children. He was senior adviser to Democrat Mike Michaud’s campaign for governor and a longtime journalist. You can reach him at