November 9, 2023
Majority of workers at Child Development Services, a state-funded agency overseen by the Maine Department of Education, take vote of no confidence in CDS Director Roberta Lucas
The workers cite long wait times for agency services, a toxic work environment, high turnover, impossible caseloads, lack of trust, apparent nepotism in hiring and personnel decisions, and the director’s support for dissolving the agency and pushing its state-mandated services onto Maine’s public schools – something the Maine Legislature has declined to do
A majority of workers employed at Child Development Services, a state-funded, statewide agency under the direction of the Maine Department of Education, have taken a vote of no confidence in the agency’s director, Roberta Lucas. The vote was 96% no-confidence in Roberta Lucas. The workers took the vote after concluding Roberta Lucas is undermining the agency and its services in order to dissolve Child Development Services and push its state-mandated services onto Maine’s public school districts – a public policy action that state legislators have been asked, but declined, to take.
The workers communicated the results of their vote today in a letter to Maine Department of Education Commissioner Pender Makin. They cited a range of problems at CDS: a toxic work environment, high staff turnover, impossible caseloads, lack of trust, apparent nepotism in hiring and personnel decisions, and the director’s support for dissolving the agency and pushing its state-mandated services onto Maine’s public schools.
The toxic work culture that Roberta Lucas has created has hurt morale and driven many CDS workers out of the agency. Twenty-nine workers have quit since June 1st. While 28 workers have been hired since then, about 70 positions at the agency remain vacant – a vacancy rate of approximately 20%.
The roughly 70 positions currently vacant at CDS make it difficult for the workers to deliver the quality services that eligible children and their families count on and are entitled to receive. The heavier caseloads due to positions that don’t get filled have led to occupational stress and high employee turnover, exacerbating the often long waitlists for services.
The workers at CDS believe three actions are necessary to put CDS services back on track:
1) Replace Roberta Lucas with a CDS director who is committed to the agency’s success;
2) Create a hiring committee that has CDS workers and family representation on it as part of any search for a new CDS director; and
3) Treat CDS like any other educational institution by establishing an oversight board.
Even though CDS is an agency under the oversight of the Maine Department of Education, no one in the Maine Department of Education appears to be providing any actual oversight of the agency. Representatives of the Maine Service Employees Association, Local 1989 of the Service Employees International Union, which represents the workers at CDS, have repeatedly tried to communicate with the Maine Department of Education’s program manager for CDS and have repeatedly been denied an audience.
CDS has locations in Presque Isle, Machias, Ellsworth, Brewer, Rockland, Waterville, Lewiston, Oxford, Portland and Arundel. Workers at CDS provide critical services to families and newborns through age 5 who have intellectual, developmental or physical disabilities so they can make the most of their public education in Maine. CDS workers provide eligible children and their families with a range of services that include speech, occupational, behavioral, physical and art therapy. Early-intervention services are provided for newborns through age 2; the public education branch of CDS focuses on ages 3 through 5.
The children served by CDS have a range of disabilities, including autism, deaf-blindness, deafness, developmental delay, emotional disturbance, hearing impairment, intellectual disability, multiple disabilities, orthopedic impairment, speech and language impairment, and visual impairment, according the agency’s 2021 Annual Report to the Maine Legislature.
CDS has been understaffed for years and has struggled to fill vacancies, which has increased the workloads of CDS workers.
The services provided to the families and children served by CDS require caring and passionate providers, yet the workers at CDS are often overwhelmed by the high caseloads. Many CDS workers are feeling overworked and unable to provide the services they wish they could provide or they are feeling like they lack the necessary resources. Many are being asked to work outside of their originally tasked jobs as a result of the many job vacancies.
The Maine Department of Education for years has been advocating in the Maine Legislature for passage of legislation to push the 3-5-year-olds served by CDS into Maine’s public schools and to move CDS services for newborns through age 2 into the Maine Department of Education, thus eliminating CDS as an agency and eliminating the jobs of the workers at CDS. The Maine Department of Education has tried to accomplish all of this through legislation. However, in 2023, legislators instead passed, and Governor Janet Mills signed into law, LD 1528, a resolve ordering a study to be completed by Feb. 15, 2024.
The Maine Service Employees Association, Local 1989 of the Service Employees International Union, represents over 13,000 Maine workers and retired workers, including the workers at Child Development Services and the Maine Department of Education.