Foster care: new and improved

April 05, 1993

Despite their good intentions, foster care programs have not given social service professionals much reason to boast.

All too often, these programs have not only failed to alleviate family tragedies but in some cases have exacerbated them.

The professionals acknowledge this now. Indeed, it's no small indictment when the secretary of Maryland's Department of Human Resources says, "Clearly, experience has shown that foster care is not the best place for kids. I can't think of what's good about foster care."

Nor is it heartening when a top official of a social issues think tank in Washington states, "Reliance on foster care is not good for kids and it's rotten social policy."

That's why Maryland deserves praise for introducing an approach that proves foster care can work when administered with the right amount of hands-on supervision and material resources.

A program along these lines has existed in Anne Arundel County since 1985, and with much success. Other jurisdictions have reaped similar benefits from the "Families Now" program since its statewide inception last July.

Early results show a marked reduction in the number of children placed in foster homes -- and thus in the number of families needlessly torn apart for lengthy periods.

As Evening Sun reporter Deidre Nerreau McCabe described in a recent story, the program is also expected to save money by spending public dollars on quick, effective and cost-efficient problem-solving, rather than on the drawn-out, costly and generally punitive process of placing kids in foster homes.

Fast intervention by social workers supplying all kinds of focused aid, from personal counseling to emergency funds, has been found to keep bad situations from getting worse.

Children might still be removed from their homes, but for only a few days -- or sometimes not at all -- while crises are resolved.

Professionals and clients agree the new system is a vast improvement over the old one, in which children would be jerked out of their natural homes for months and little more than temporary solutions would be offered to the families.

Through the commendable Families Now program, state workers can combine hard-earned experience and financial support to do a far better job than they did before.

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