Child-welfare forces ask state for millions more

January 23, 1991|By Laura Lippman | Laura Lippman,Evening Sun Staff

A coalition of 17 groups that serve children presented Maryland lawmakers today with a comprehensive agenda calling for millions of dollars in new money and significant changes in state laws.

While the proposed programs may seem ambitious for a state whose budget and economy are suffering, supporters say the program is realistic.

"We always want to be credible," said Lynda Meade, a lobbyist in Annapolis who represents the Maryland Alliance for the Poor. "We have thought about this and asked ourselves: How dare we do this? And then said, How dare we not?"

And Susan P. Leviton, president of Advocates for Children and Youth Inc., one of the lead non-profit groups behind the agenda, said: "Not everything we're asking for is money. A lot of it is asking that money be spent more wisely."

Leviton said the state is spending $70 million on foster care, which could be reduced by expanding preventive programs that identify families in trouble before they need foster care.

Recommendations in the document of over 40 pages include:

* Increasing daily welfare benefits by 80 cents a person and daily state general public assistance grants by $1. For an average welfare family -- a mother with two children -- the proposal would increase their current monthly grant of $406 to $478. The average GPA grant of $205 would increase to $235 under the proposal.

While the coalition did not calculate the total cost of this proposal, it clearly would cost tens of millions in state and federal funds.

* Closing the Charles H. Hickey Jr. School in Cub Hill, the state's only locked facility for juvenile delinquents, and turning it over to a private contractor.

* Providing $2 million in additional funds for family-planning services and reinstating $1.9 million for prenatal services, which were cut from the fiscal 1991 budget.

* Significantly boosting money spent on programs for homeless children. Action for the Homeless Inc. recommends $1.8 million for the Homeless Services Program to pay for an additional 72,000 nights of shelter, and $700,000 to support shelter programs and transitional housing for women and children.

Other recommendations include $500,000 to provide additional housing counseling services and $1.5 million for a rental assistance program.

* Expanding Medicaid coverage to poor children ages 6 and 7.

* Providing an additional $750,000 to the Governor's Office on Children, Youth and Families, to develop an "early intervention system" that would recognize a child's problems before there was a crisis.

* Banning corporal punishment in all public schools, a ban in effect in 21 states. Most Maryland counties already have banned corporal punishment, but efforts to implement a statewide ban have failed repeatedly in the General Assembly.

* Changing state law and providing more money to speed up adoptions in Maryland. These proposals include expanding programs that concentrate on keeping children out of foster care.

In cases where children are being considered for adoption, the advocates propose a law that would require courts to decide whether parental rights should be terminated, freeing children for adoption, within 180 days. Decisions on terminating parental rights currently are made on the average within 13 months.

The proposal also recommends trying to speed up the filing of petitions to terminate parental rights by increasing the legal staff available to social service departments. Those petitions are required by law to be filed within 120 days, but the process now takes an average of seven months.

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