Foster Care Solution

May 12, 1991

Gov. William Donald Schaefer ought to listen to his Foster Care Review Board. If he heeds the board's advice, he could save the state millions -- money that could be recycled into other social-service programs during this economic recession.

The board's message is simple: Assign social workers to problem families where children are at risk of being placed in foster homes. Test programs since 1987 show that this preventive step has had phenomenal results: 90 percent of the children in these cases have stayed out of foster care. Since the state could save nearly $30,000 for every child who is not placed in a foster home, the potential cost-effectiveness is enormous.

The growth in the state's foster care budget has been explosive, from $45 million in 1987 to $115 million this year. This is tied largely to a big jump in the number of children in foster care -- 4,300 in 1987 versus 5,350 this year. Now the Foster Care Review Board thinks that an ounce of early preventive action with troubled families could lower the state's costs -- and the caseload -- dramatically.

It is worth a try. The legislature has asked the administration to develop a plan for expanding family services. There may even be money available within the Department of Human Resources' current budget to expand the existing Intensive Family Services program. Certainly there would not be a 90-percent effectiveness rate as in the test cases, but it would only take a 6.5 percent success ratio for the project to break even for the state.

Not only would the monetary savings be substantial, but the foster-care system would receive much-needed relief. With fewer children entering foster care each year, the remaining children would have a far better chance of receiving more appropriate care. We urge the governor to heed the suggestion of the Foster Care Review Board. The administration ought to adopt a "do it now" approach toward the Intensive Family Services program. It would be beneficial for the children, and for the state's treasury, too.

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