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.