PRIORITY NOTICE: Spotting Signs of Child Abuse and Neglect During the COVID-19 Emergency: An Updated Guide for Educational Professionals and Others who Care for Maine Children

The Department of Health and Human Service (DHHS) issued the following updated guidance for education professionals and others who care for Maine children.

Spotting Signs of Child Abuse and Neglect During the COVID-19 Emergency: An Updated Guide for Educational Professionals and Others who Care for Maine Children

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SUPPORT FOR MAINE’S CHILDREN AND FAMILIES:

In our great state of Maine, we are fortunate to have many talented professionals who positively impact the lives of children on a regular basis, and who continue to do so during this time of intense challenge. Teachers, principals, social workers, mental health providers, and countless other professionals have quickly transitioned to supporting youth and families virtually via phone, video, text, email, and other online resources. Maintaining contact with children and their caregivers is critical to supporting our communities during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Maine Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), Office of Child and Family Services (OCFS), relies on professionals, community and family members, and others to recognize and report child abuse and neglect concerns. OCFS recognizes that the current pandemic may increase stress, fear, isolation, financial instability, potentially creating higher risk for both child abuse and domestic violence within families. Professionals, community and family members, and others must continue networking with families to provide needed support, guidance and outreach, so that any observed concerns of suspected abuse or neglect can be reported.

HOW TO IDENTIFY SIGNS OF CHILD ABUSE AND NEGLECT WHILE WORKING WITH FAMILIES:

First, take a deep breath and know that we are all in this together. As “helpers” who work with children and families you may experience added strain and worry for the families you work with, which takes an additional toll on each of you. Don’t forget to take care of you and your family, while also being there for those you support – be it in a classroom, therapy session, or other environment.

Even from a distance, there are ways to help to connect with children and families during this time:

Regularly engage with children and their caregivers and make it clear how you can be contacted and when you plan to meet, even if virtually. Children thrive on knowing what to expect, and this is particularly important now as children are surrounded by uncertainty and stress in our world and homes.

Acknowledge when working with children and families that virtual contact and communication will look different and is a change for all of us. Explain how video chats, online forums, and phone calls will work and point out what you hope can be familiar for children in these interactions. *See additional resources below regarding how to stay virtually connected to families.

Ensure the ability to have conversations in private when talking to children and families.

Talk to children and their caregivers and listen to their stories. It is important that each person can share their experiences and frustrations, and understand that feeling “upside down” right now is normal and to be expected. Pay attention to the environment during video chats, changes in child or adult behaviors, and to families with whom you are unable to engage or make contact.

Be curious and ask questions of children and caregivers about how they are doing, what is going well, and what concerns them about their current environment. For example, ask children: How are you feeling? What was the best/hardest part of your day? What did you have for breakfast? What do you like best about being home? What do you miss about being at school? What worries you?

Recognize as educators and professionals that you can’t do this alone. It is the responsibility of each of us to collaborate and provide a network of support and resources for families. Suggest resources and refer families to additional support as needed. *See additional resources below.

CHILD ABUSE AND NEGLECT: TYPES AND REPORTING

There are four main types of abuse: PHYSICAL, EMOTIONAL, SEXUAL, and NEGLECT. Below are some potential signs of abuse and neglect that could indicate a child may not be safe:

PHYSICAL abuse:

  • Child has bruising, welts, burns, bite marks, broken bones or other injuries that are not explained,
  • appear to be inflicted, or are suspicious.
  • Child may report having pain caused by parental behavior, though have no obvious signs of injury.
  • Child has been directly present in a room where domestic violence incidents have occurred.
  • Behaviorally, child may appear to be afraid of caregiver(s) and flinch when around them.

EMOTIONAL abuse:

  • Child may appear withdrawn, sad, or emotionally unattached to caregivers.
  • Caregiver is known or heard to repeatedly blame, belittle, or berate the child.
  • Child is aware of and exposed to domestic violence incidents between caregivers.

SEXUAL abuse:

  • Child may describe being sexually touched by a parent, caregiver, or other person in the home.
  • Child may demonstrate unusual sexual knowledge or behavior for their age.

NEGLECT:

  • Child is witnessing illegal substance use by caregivers, and/or has access to unsafe items in the home.
  • Child is not being supervised adequately for their age and developmental ability.
  • Child’s primary needs for food, education or, medical, dental, or mental health care are not being met

IMPORTANT: Please obtain as much detail as possible regarding any concerns, such as WHEN/WHERE an incident occurred, HOW something made the child feel, or WHAT injuries look like (size, shape, location). Ask open ended follow up questions to clarify information.

Additional information regarding law which defines Maine abuse and neglect can be found here: http://mainelegislature.org/legis/statutes/22/title22sec4002.html

ANY person can report abuse/neglect. Persons who work professionally with children are required by law to report suspicions of abuse or neglect. It is NOT necessary for a reporter to first verify that the abuse or neglect has occurred. Click here for Maine’s Mandated Reporter Law

The Maine Office of Child and Family Services (OCFS) operates the statewide hotline for child abuse and neglect. Trained staff are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to take reports and answer questions.

To Report Child Abuse and Neglect call: 
1-800-452-1999

Deaf/Heard of Hearing Call Maine Relay 711

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES FOR RECOGNIZING AND REPORTING CHILD ABUSE/NEGLECT:

RESOURCES FOR EDUCATORS AND PROVIDERS TO STAY VIRTUALLY CONNECTED WITH FAMILIES:

OTHER STATEWIDE RESOURCES IN MAINE:

  • Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Child and Family Services 1-877-452-1999 https://www.maine.gov/dhhs/ocfs/
  • 2-1-1 Maine, Inc. (Free information & Referral): Dial 211 or 1-877-463-6207 (Out of State) https://211maine.org/
  • Office of Financial Independence (OFI) Support and Services: OFI Main Telephone Line 1-(800)-442-6003
  • Maine Unemployment Hotline: 1-(800)-593-8660 https://www.maine.gov/unemployment/
  • Elder/Dependent Adult Abuse: 1-800-624-8404 (Voice) or 711 (Maine Relay)
  • Poison Control Center: 1-800-222-1222 (Voice) 1-877-299-4447 (TTY) Northern New England Poison Center
  • Maine Statewide Crisis Hotline 1-888-568-1112 (Voice/TTY) (Crisis Hotline)
  • Suicide Prevention: 1-800-273-TALK (8255) Maine Youth Suicide Prevention Program
  • Domestic Violence Hotline 1-866-834-HELP (4357) www.mcedv.org

ON BEHALF OF THE MAINE DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES, OFFICE OF CHILD AND FAMILY SERVICES, WE APPRECIATE THE ONGOING WORK OF EDUCATION, HEALTH CARE AND MENTAL HEALTH PROVIDERS AND OTHER PROFESSIONALS AND COMMUNITY MEMBERS IN JOINING WITH US TO KEEP MAINE’S CHILDREN AND FAMILIES SAFE AND HEALTHY.

PRIORITY NOTICE: Expanded Authority of Reserve Funds

An Act Regarding the Reserve Funds of Certain School Organizational Structures was signed by Governor Mills on March 12, 2020 and will become effective on June 16, 2020.

The contents of the new legislation are summarized below and may be of interest to leaders of some School Administrative Unit (SAU)s. Administrators may wish to consult with legal counsel regarding the procedures for establishing reserve funds for their school organizational structure.

School Administrative Units included in this act are School Administrative Districts (SADs), Regional School Units (RSUs), Community School Districts (CSDs), and Career and Technical Education (CTE) Regions.

Previously, School Administrative Units were able to establish a reserve fund for school construction projects and for financing the acquisition or reconstruction of a specific or type of capital improvement. This new legislation provides additional flexibility to create reserve funds for any of the following: regular education, special education, career and technical education, other instruction such as summer school and extracurricular activities, student and staff support, system administration, school administration, transportation and buses, facilities maintenance, debt service and other commitments; and all other expenditures including school lunch. The request for the reserve fund must be included in the district budget and have a description of the purpose for the reserve fund. The governing board is the trustee of the reserve fund, and in the cases of SADs, RSUs and CSDs, the fund must be deposited or invested by the treasurer as directed by the governing board.

Previously, Boards of Directors of any of these SAUs were able to expend money from reserve funds only if they were authorized to do so by a vote at a district budget meeting and an article for the purpose for the reserve fund had been in the warrant calling the meeting. However, this legislation now also provides the Boards of Directors with the ability to expend funds when the expenditure is required by law or in an emergency where the cost of a district vote is prohibitive. The governing board of the SAUs may expend the funds after providing public notice of a regular or special meeting, at which a vote to expend funds from the reserve fund will be taken. A public hearing must be held prior to the vote to expend funds from the reserve fund, and the vote must be recorded in the meeting minutes.

Step 1 – Reserve fund proposed in the budget for specific purpose is approved

Step 2 – Reserve fund set aside in SAD, RSU, CSD organizations

Step 3 – To expend the funds in the budget year, provide notice and:

  1. Hold a district meeting, OR
  2. Hold a regular or special meeting of the governing board with a public hearing, vote, and recorded vote.

For CTE regions, the cooperative board may expend the reserve fund if permitted by any indebtedness secured by the reserve fund and if approved in the region budget. A separate article for that purpose must be included in the budget proposal.

Please reference PL 2019 Chapter 588 for additional information.

Expanded Authority of Reserve Funds

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EF-S-214 Data Entry Deadline Extended to May 15.

The Department’s School Finance Team needs the EF-S-214 data in order to calculate and apply any adjustments to the ED 279s prior to year-end.

The EF-S-214 was opened to Maine School Administrative Units (SAUs) on March 1st for data entry.  We are providing as much time as we can to SAUs to get this data entry completed, but it MUST be entered no later than May 15th. This timeline will allow us to apply eligible adjustments to the current year High Cost Out-of-District allocation prior to the end of the fiscal year.

Given the uniqueness of the current situation, the School Finance Team is providing SAUs two options when filling out their EF-S-214.

  • If the SAU is continuing to pay for the out of district placement, it would report cost up to the end of the fiscal year, as they would under normal circumstances.
  • If a SAU has stopped paying tuition for out of district placements, they would report what they have spent up to this point in the fiscal year, instead of estimating the cost to the end of the year.

Only students that meet the threshold for being high cost and where the SAU is not reimbursed should be reported on the EF-S-214.

The EF-S-214 report may be found by logging into NEO at:  https://neo.maine.gov/DOE/NEO/Accounts/Account/Login

Please contact Stephanie Clark, Fiscal Review and Compliance Consultant at: Stephanie.Clark@maine.gov or 207-624-6807.

PRIORITY NOTICE:  Unified Guidance Regarding Executive Orders and School Personnel:  All School Services and Employees are Essential

As our state and nation face unprecedented challenges due to the COVID-19 state of emergency, it is more critical than ever that Maine schools and school employees work together to provide the deeply needed services of continuity of education, communications, connectivity, payroll, other administrative activities, custodial services, transportation/deliveries,  and student nutrition. The Governor has directed SAUs to pay hourly employees for their previously contracted hours throughout the remainder of this school year, and this decision was predicated on the understanding that all school employees would continue to have important roles in limited, alternative, ongoing operations. The Department of Education has also stated that all school employees are essential.  The Priority Notice from the Dept of Education on 3/27/20 says: “All school employees are considered to be ‘essential’ under the Governor’s Executive Order #19 and should be expected to complete all duties and tasks assigned to them.”

On March 31st, Governor Mills instituted Executive Order 28 further restricting public contact and movement, schools, vehicle travel and retail business operations.  In addition, cities and towns are also putting new provisions in place, which restrict operations of non-essential businesses, new questions have arisen about the definition and what it means for public-school employees to be essential.

Although school employees are essential, their physical presence at school is not always necessary during this emergency, as there are many tasks and trainings that could be completed remotely.  In light of the Governor’s “Stay Healthy At Home” order at this critical juncture to flatten the curve, physical presence in schools should be restricted to a bare minimum in order to provide essential functions – such as providing educational and nutritional services to students, payroll, certain cleaning and maintenance staff, certain administrative assistant staff where communications cannot occur remotely, IT staff to support remote learning functions, transportation staff  – and only as long as social distancing and other CDC recommendations (including hand washing protocols) are being implemented. The fewest numbers of employees possible should be on premises, and only during the necessary time frame required for conducting such services. All functions that do not require in-person staff in schools should be done remotely.

It is possible that some hourly staff members will not have enough immediately purposeful work to do (either on site or remotely) to fill the contracted hours for which they are paid. In that case, these employees should be considered to be “on standby”, ready to assist as work does become available for them. Administrators and supervisors should determine when/if certain positions are needed to perform tasks.  While on standby, employees will continue to receive hourly wages as contracted prior to the COVID emergency.

Given the Governor’s most recent Executive Order, the Department of Education (DOE), Maine School Board Association/Maine School Superintendents Association (MSBA/MSSA), Maine Principals Association (MPA), Maine Education Association (MEA), Maine Administrators of Services for Children with Disabilities (MADSEC) and Maine Curriculum Leaders Association (MCLA), would like to clarify the roles and responsibilities of public-school employees during this time.

  • Employees who are able and assigned by supervisors to work remotely should continue to do so, and raise any concerns they may have with their local district leadership.  Administrators and staff are encouraged to collaborate and problem-solve to foster telework options during this crisis.

  •  School employees should continue to go to work if they  must be there to perform essential functions. CDC guidelines should be strictly followed including social distancing of at least 6 feet from all other people.  School employees working onsite should be kept to the bare minimum necessary to execute the functions that require their physical presence.

  • Employees  whose services are not immediately needed, as determined by supervisors, or whose work cannot be done remotely, should continue to receive their regular wages and should remain ready to perform tasks as they become necessary and assigned by supervisors.    Employees on standby leave should be ready to help schools meet their basic needs, and may be assigned to participate in a rotation of duties during this time.

  • Any  school employees who are sick, in a high risk group, or feel unsafe for any reason, should have access to their own sick leave, the new federal leave program, a district sick leave bank, if applicable, or any other paid leave that a district may be providing.

We can all take common sense steps to ensure that only staff whose physical presence is required  to provide services and who are engaged in immediately necessary services are in our schools, and that those who are in our schools are being protected by following the most current CDC guidelines for social distancing, cleaning, hand washing, and ventilation.

We so appreciate all the work being done to help students during these challenging times.  We know our public schools are wonderful places filled with amazing, hard-working and dedicated staff.  Please be sure to take care of each other during this crisis.

PRIORITY NOTICE: Update and Guidance From Commissioner Makin: April 1, 2020

Dear Champions of Education, 

Yesterday, Governor Mills issued a “stay at home” order, offering specific guidance around curtailing non-essential activities, gatherings, and travel. She also ordered schools to refrain from in-person, classroom instruction practices until after May 1st (or until further orders are issued).  

As we close in on the third week of remote instruction, please know that your resilient leadership and ongoing efforts are making a huge difference for Maine students and families. While everything is so suddenly chaotic and unfamiliar to everyone, our schools continue to shine like a beacon of hope. I have received countless emails and messages from legislators, parents, community members, and students sharing their gratitude for the steady support, the nutritional services, and the deeply human connections that are provided by educators, counselors, and school administrators. I’ve heard anecdotes from teachers who have noticed increased participation and engagement from students who had previously been among the most disconnected and apathetic. The lesson in this phenomenon is an important one… they’re counting on you even when their outward behaviors disguise this fact. 

Updates and information: 

  • Essential employees:   PreK-12 educational and. Child nutrition staff are all considered essential during this crisis. We are currently working with our educational organizations’ leadership to develop clarified and unified guidance in light of the Governor’s most recent Executive Order.  
  • Nutrition programs and April vacation: Maine DOE’s Child Nutrition team continues to seek flexibilities and waivers for our SAUs and communities. We are thrilled to share that there have been waivers granted for schools with fewer than 50% free/reduced meal students and bulk service provisions. Read more here.  We have applied for a waiver that will allow meal programs to be Reimbursed For the meals served during April vacation- currently not reimbursable. We will provide an update as soon as we hear from USDA. 
  • The CARES Act federal relief package will provide schools/SAU’s with funding to mitigate some of the financial impacts of the COVID-related disruption. Much more on this coming very soon! 
  • Remote Learning Plans/Sharing: Although we’re not requiring districts to share their remote learning plans, some have shared theirs with us and offered them as a resource to others that are still developing their plans! We will be happy to collect and share in a protected way with colleagues. Thank you to all who have shared their well-developed plans! If you’d like to offer your districts plan as a guide for others, please email Chief Innovation Officer, Page Nichols at page.nichols@maine.gov. 
  • Home Instruction: The Department recognizes that disruption due to COVID-19 may impact a home instruction family’s ability to maintain the required number of instructional days, and is therefore including home instruction in the statewide waiver granted for the minimum of 175 days of instruction for 2019-2020 school year.  Demonstration of satisfactory academic progress is still required to be submitted to superintendents by September 1st.  
  • School Budget, voting, etc:  We have been working with MSMA, the AG’s office, and the Governor’s office to develop an executive order that will provide the various flexibilities that have been requested. Please stay tuned – solutions are imminent.  (The Legislature did vote our GPA budget IN and intact, so your ED279 printouts provide an accurate basis for what you’ll receive in state subsidy).  
  • DOE is open for business – including CERTIFICATION office!  The system is up and running, the phones are being monitored by our knowledgeable and helpful team of experts, and we are eager to get your completed applications for renewal or initial certification processed as soon as possible! We have had some state level issues with phone system overload, so don’t hesitate to use email also!  As mentioned in an earlier notice, we do intend to provide extensions for those who have had education, testing, fingerprinting, or practicum/internship disruptions due to the COVID emergency – but for those of you who have completed the necessary steps, please submit necessary documentation and move ahead with your renewal application!   

Silver Linings: 

  • It’s possible that we’re demonstrating capacity for never having to make up “snow days” in the future!  
  • We have a perfect opportunity to redesign our state assessment system! 
  • Every time we do something kind or selfless to benefit someone else, we get a bump of serotonin … It even works when we simply observe someone being kind to someone else!  
  • Amid the fear and loss and physical disconnection, watch empathy, compassion, and humanity shining like the North Star – far above the fray.  
  • We will emerge from this better than we’ve ever been. 

Thank you for all you are doing on behalf of your students, staff, and communities.  

 Pender