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Response to Abuse – A Committee

The Maine Legislature, as such bodies are wont to do when faced with intractable systemic problems, on the recommendation of the Legislative Research Committee in 1955 created a Governor’s advisory committee to study the issue – the Maine Committee on Problems of the Mentally Retarded. “This committee, which is state-wide in its scope, will seek to survey the numbers and needs of the mentally retarded, both present and future, to compare the needs with what is available to fulfill them, to develop an integrated program coordinating both State and local programs, to inform the citizens of the State on various aspects of the problem, to report to the Governor, and to be of assistance in making recommendations to the Legislature.” (Lewiston Daily Sun, January 6, 1956)

Newspaper clipping from the Lewiston Daily Sun, January 6, 1956 – Headline: Lewiston Woman on Committee For the Mentally Retarded
Lewiston Daily Sun, January 6, 1956

The committee filed several reports over the next two years, one recommending establishing clinics across the state to test and diagnose children – a sort of precursor to early-intervention programs. “There is no need, and no possibility, for placing the vast majority of these children in institutions, the committee said. But there is a need for clinics to test their intelligence and health and recommend treatment and training.” (Lewiston Evening Journal, February 21, 1957)

Newspaper clipping from the Lewiston Evening Journal, February 21, 1957 – Headline: Committee On Problems of the Mentally Retarded Files Report Recommending Three Clinics
Lewiston Evening Journal, February 21, 1957

Another discussion in this committee revolved around the creation of a state agency that would deal with issues around mental health and those with developmental disabilities. In those discussions, a nascent idea was floated – that people with developmental disabilities should not be sent to institutions as a matter of course, and that there might be a better way. “Maine’s program was seriously lacking in preventive work, and too fully centered on caring for people in institutions rather than on maximum efforts toward restoring them to society.” (Lewiston Daily Sun, February 15, 1958) This sentiment would begin to enter the rhetoric of policymakers more and more over the next decade.

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Study vs. Action

Study vs. Action

Systems are slow to change – when complicated policies are built over years based on societal assumptions and bureaucracies arise that give power to certain groups and leaders, the status quo is often seen as both better and easier than trying something new.

When faced with intractable systemic problems, the people who administrate those systems can be cautious in the face of calls for reform. A common step is to create a taskforce or commission a report to study the issue and bring back recommendations.

While careful evaluation of problems and potential solutions is important, much too often the movement forward ends there. Caring people with years of experience take months or years to develop detailed plans and recommendations, only to see those reports gather dust while policymakers argue over details and funding and implementation.

Here are some of the reports that have been funded by our legislature in the last few decades, filled with plans that have never been executed:

1973 – Report to the Appropriations Committeewith Recommendations to Adopt Basic Policies to Guide the Appropriation of State Funds for Social Services

1980 – Long Term Care Dilemmas – Perceptions and Recommendations

1996 – Report of the Assisted Living Task Force

1997 – Final Report of the Commission to Determine the Adequacy of Services to Persons with Mental Retardation

2003 – Roadmap for Change: Maine’s Response to the Olmstead Decision – Work Group for Community-Based Living

2008 – Final Report of the Blue Ribbon Commission to Study the Future of Home-based and Community-based Care

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