Shelter Opponents Disregard Needs Of Abused Children

THE OBSERVER

Despite Approval, Posturing Persists

April 12, 1992|By Mark Guidera

You would think that with the Board of Zoning Appeals' approval lastweek of a proposal to build a temporary-care facility for abused kids near Fallston, the posturing of opponents would ebb.

But no. Thepanic, unfortunately, continues. Some opponents now threaten to appeal the ruling in court, again stalling the project.

The appeals board issued a fair and reasonable decision in the case, addressing legitimate concerns of the the community and needs of the project.

The appeals board struck this compromise in its decision: It specified that no more than 30 children at the facility couldbe between ages 12 and 17, and all other children must be between 2 and 12.

The county zoning hearing examiner had said in his decision that any child over 12 had to be related to a younger child at the facility. The United Methodist Board of Child Care argued that the restriction would result in turning away teens who needed emergency care.

The zoning appeals board was aware that opponents in the community were particularly wary of the facility housing teens.

Critics of the project in the rural residential community were particularly interested in the ages of the children to be cared for at the complex.They worry that older teens at the facility would place their community at risk of theft, vandalism and runaways on the loose.

This concern wasn't completely ill-founded. The Board of Child Care's facility for 70 abused teens in Randallstown does have runaways now and then, and police have responded to complaints about the facility from residents in the area.

The zoning appeals board struck a Solomon-like compromise in limiting the number of the children over 12 who can stay at the facility.

While that compromise clearly doesn't satisfysome opponents of the project, what's important for them to keep in mind is this:

Foster-care workers in the Harford County Departmentof Social Services say the need for such a facility for abused children in the county is severe; there isn't any such shelter for young children in Harford.

There are about 260 abused Harford children currently in protective foster home settings.

To further stall this project through court action does the children in need more harm thananyone. A court battle could stall the project for many months, meaning wasted time getting the facility built and operating so abused children in this county and elsewhere can get proper care and counseling for their horrors.

Consider this: In the two years that the United Methodist Board of Child Care has been working to gain community and county approval for the 60-bed facility near Fallston, a 48,000-seat stadium has been funded, built and filled in Baltimore.

It is unfortunate that some opponents seemingly will grasp at anything to deride the project, slated for 26 acres at the corner of Harford and Reckord roads.

First it was the terror of a parent enraged that his or her child had been taken to the facility going into a murderous rage in the community.

Then it was the threat of area schools being overcrowded due to the influx of kids staying at the facility, which would house 60 at the most. Then wells in the community would dry up because the facility would use vast amounts of water, and on and on.

You get the picture.

Now opponents threaten to challenge the appeals board approval in court, hoping a judge will agree that the agency proposing the project misled a zoning hearing examiner and the community by not disclosing elements of its plans.

The rub for the critics is this:

They note that administrators of the non-profit United Methodist Board of Child Care had said at numerous public hearings and community meetings that the facility would primarily serve children ages 2 through 12.

That is true.

Skeptics of the project were incensed Tuesday night during the zoning appeals board hearing when the Board of Child Care asked the appeals board not to restrict children ages 12 to 17 from being cared for at the new facility.

Critics charged that significantly changed the dynamics of what this facility had been touted as all along, and, worse, that they had been misled.

But it seems it is they who are misleading the public with emotionalism and a distinct disregard for the needs of the abused child waiting for a refuge.

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