A Home for Abused Kids

November 08, 1991

It is appalling that because of sexual or physical abuse or neglect, the need exists in Maryland to justify a home-away-from-home for as many as 60 children at a time, most between the ages of 2 and 12. But just ask social services people: they see this tragic need almost daily.

A partial solution exists, and remarkable for these times, it requires no government borrowing. The United Methodist Church's Board of Child Care wants to build and operate a foster-care home on farmland it bought near Fallston 17 years ago. The non-profit agency, backed by Maryland, Delaware and District of Columbia Methodist churches, has a 114-year history of service to distressed children. In the last 30 years, the agency, which began by operating orphanages, has slowly broadened into other aspects of counseling and caring for adolescents as well.

The five-building complex the agency has proposed in Harford County would enable it to extend its services to children of elementary-school age and younger. Some would be housed temporarily, others longer while family dysfunctions are worked through. Most would come from northeastern Maryland, including Baltimore; Harford County children would have preference for space, if that becomes an issue. The complex would be tucked away on 26 acres at Harford and Reckord roads, an area characterized by former farmland that has been turned into well-to-do suburban development on large lots.

All of which sounds like a responsible, sensible way of privately addressing a sad social need.

Predictably, some prospective neighbors are acting un-neighborly in opposing a special zoning exception the agency needs to proceed. Prominent among their arguments are fears that the facility would use too much well water -- despite state assurances otherwise. They contend the children might overcrowd schools -- yet school officials anticipate no problem.

The church's Board of Child Care has strong backers, too, not the least of whom is Larry Berardelli, Harford County's director of social services. He says the "well-run, professional" agency is needed to meet a growing problem. The county too often must shelter abused children out-of-county, even out-of-state, he says, making a bad situation even worse.

Public hearings have been held on the proposal, the last one yesterday. While arguments against granting the special exception have been aired, they have not offset this proposal's obvious merit. This is an instance where a clear public need and solidly thought-through response to it should outweigh the fears of a few.

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