In an effort to break the cycle that lands some deadbeat dads in jail for failing to pay child support, the county has asked business leaders to help find ways to provide the men with job training and work skills.
A task force of county officials and local business people will target unemployed fathers whose children receive welfare payments through the county's Department of Social Services. The partnership is one way to involve the private sector in the reform of welfare policies, said County Executive Robert R. Neall.
The Welfare Reform Initiative Task Force, of which Ed Ladd, general manager of Marley Station Mall, will be chairman, will make recommendations to Mr. Neall on expanding programs and services and developing new approaches to help the unemployed fathers.
"The goal of this task force is to find better ways to promote self-sufficiency and parental participation, providing these children with employed, productive, adult male role models," Mr. Neall said in a statement.
Although the idea for the task force has been in the works for some time, the announcement was timely. Two weeks ago, 61 fathers who had been jailed for failing to pay child support were released from the detention center. Their release came after Circuit Judge Bruce C. Williams ruled that his colleagues had not made an inadequate attempt to determine whether the fathers had the ability to pay before setting amounts required for their release.
County public defender Alan R. Friedman, who sought the ruling, also argued that the delinquent fathers were being jailed as punishment, not as a means of extracting payment. Mr. Friedman, who has been named to the task force, said the effort to provide job training to the fathers "is exactly what we need . . . Something needs to be done to break the cycle."
Mr. Friedman said that a growing number of fathers were being jailed for increasing amounts of time during the last year, which exacerbated the overcrowding problem in the detention center. The men had been sentenced to a total of more than 15,000 days in jail, at a cost of about $55 per person each day.
"It is too expensive, and we have to provide alternatives to incarceration that provide the child support money," the public defender said.
It is precisely the fact that many of these fathers lack job skills that gets them into trouble, Mr. Friedman said. "These are the people who fall behind in their payments, get thrown in jail and then become a further burden to society.
"These people are caught in a never-ending cycle that is spiraling down and draining taxpayers' dollars with it," Mr. Friedman said.
In addition to Mr. Ladd and Mr. Friedman, the other appointees are: Gorham L. Black III, deputy chief administrative officer for Mr. Neall; Steven Boyd of the Bank of Glen Burnie; Edward Casey, executive editor of The Capital; Ron Fuoge, a CPA with Dixie Printing and Packaging; Jim Grave of Fleet Business School; Gerald Stansbury of Phelps Protection Systems; Stephanie Yancy of First National Bank; Linda Steele, of the county's Department of Social Services; Del. John Gary; and Barbara Wilkens, representing state Sen. John Cade.
The first meeting of the task force will be held at 5:30 p.m. Jan. 6, in the first-floor conference room of the Arundel Center in Annapolis. It will present its recommendations to Mr. Neall in mid-February.