A home for every child

September 01, 1993

In recent weeks, highly publicized cases involving the rights of biological parents have prompted much talk about the best interests of children. But the cases of the 2 1/2 -year-old girl who was returned to her biological parents in Iowa and a 14-year-old Florida girl who was granted judicial permission to sever ties with her biological family were as dramatic as they were unusual. For too many children, the issue isn't which family will serve their best interests, but whether they will ever have any family at all.

In all the talk about children's best interests, it's important to remember the flesh-and-blood reality. In Maryland alone, 1,300 children are now waiting for a family to call their own. These are children who have been removed from their homes, placed in foster care and are now awaiting adoption.

Of those 1,300, only about 400 will find permanent families this year. That leaves hundreds of youngsters in limbo, sometimes moved from place to place so often they lose all interest in establishing emotional bonds. When these children are carted from one foster care placement to another, no cameras are present to record the emotional toll, as was the case for little Jessica DeBoer/Anna Schmidt. But these young lives bear the scars.

Maryland has devised good programs to help troubled families remain functional so children will not have to be placed in foster care. Those efforts are paying off. In fiscal year 1991, 3,625 children entered foster care; by fiscal year 1993, the number was down to 3,100. That's encouraging news. But for those children whose families can't stay together, the prospects can be grim.

About half the children who enter foster care will be returned to their parents or to relatives within six months. The rest can face a life of limbo. Many of these children become too old to be adopted, or so jaded that after age 10 they exercise their rights to object to an adoption. Children in foster care have many needs, but one of the most obvious is a swift resolution of their cases. Adoption placements can take five to seven years -- an eternity for a child.

dTC This process could be speeded up, and money can help. Child welfare advocates maintain that an additional $3 million allocated to the Department of Human Resources' adoption services could boost the adoption rate by an extra 250 or 300 cases. The money would help underwrite the work involved in meeting the legal requirements for terminating the rights of biological parents. It would also pay for more staff to make appropriate matches between children and prospective parents and to ensure that cases are handled speedily.

What would you pay for a family? For all the lives it could help

rescue, $3 million seems like a bargain.

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