Fighting fires

May 01, 1991

It's a lot easier -- and a lot less expensive -- to prevent forest fires than to try to put them out. Yet somehow that common-sense wisdom seems to get lost when the lesson should be applied to other situations. Child foster care is a prime example. According to the state's Foster Care Review Board, for about $2,000 per child, the state could provide services to a troubled family before the situation becomes so critical that a child must be removed from the home. The alternative is to spend $31,000 or more to keep a child in foster care for 19 months, which is just short of the average length of stay.

As Laura Lippman reported in Tuesday's Evening Sun, test sites for Intensive Family Services, the Department of Human Resources' early-intervention efforts, have yielded a 90 percent success rate in keeping children out of foster care. Those high rates could probably not be duplicated statewide, but even a smaller success rate would make a considerable difference in the cost of foster care.

In a time of tight budgets, the monetary argument is a powerful one. But dollars and cents shouldn't obscure the human costs of fractured families -- or the human value of helping families prevent domestic conflagrations rather than rushing in to put out fires after the damage has been done.

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