Schaefer Loses a Star

January 21, 1991

If the Rhode Island legislature gives its consent, Maryland's juvenile services chief, Linda D'Amario Rossi, will return to her home state after radically transforming the way Annapolis treats delinquent youths. In just three years, Ms. Rossi has shaken up her agency, cut in half the number of youngsters warehoused in institutions and vastly expanded the network of private and community services available to help wayward juveniles.

Losing Ms. Rossi is a blow to the Schaefer administration. She was a star in the cabinet, gaining nationwide recognition for her sweeping changes in Maryland. "We don't put kids in beds in institutions," she said, "we put kids in programs."

Ms. Rossi quickly moved to shut down the much-criticized Montrose School and cut in half the population at the Hickey School in Cub Hill. She sent juveniles instead to private and community programs tailored to deal with their problems.

This policy of taking juveniles out of institutions created critics of Ms. Rossi in her department. Decades of meting out punishment to young delinquents gave way to a more enlightened approach. Reducing the number of kids in detention facilities also meant a big cut in jobs for state workers, which brought furious protests from their unions.

Now Ms. Rossi has received an offer from Rhode Island that is too appealing to reject. Gov. William Donald Schaefer wants a replacement who shares her rehabilitation philosophy. But before then, he has a chance to realign agencies within a number of departments -- including Juvenile Services -- to improve efficiency.

If Medicaid and welfare programs are placed in a new Department of Income and Health Security, the existing Department of Human Resources would shrink in scope and focus on children and families. Consolidating Juvenile Services within a reorganized DHR might be a logical step toward placing all youth-related programs under one umbrella. It also might save taxpayers money.

The direction of the state's juvenile treatment programs is secure, though. Emphasis is now clearly on helping troubled youngsters overcome their problems -- not locking them away until they have served their time. That was Linda Rossi's foremost contribution to Maryland government, and to the state's juveniles.

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