A legacy for Schaefer

May 31, 1994

Soon after he took office in 1987, Gov. William Donald Schaefer decided to do something to end the fragmentation that had long hampered the delivery of social services in Maryland. Children and families who needed government help often found themselves bouncing back and forth between any number of agencies and departments -- from education to human resources to health and human hygiene, and so on. He created a subcabinet for families, children and youth to foster more cooperation among these departments and appointed a special secretary to oversee its efforts.

Then in 1988, with the governor's encouragement and funding from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the state embarked on an ambitious effort to streamline and reform the delivery of social services in Maryland. Plenty of governors have talked about reforming foster care or juvenile services or any number of other social services programs, but few of them have produced lasting results. But as the reform initiative gained steam, Governor Schaefer was well on the way to establishing a legacy that could make a real difference in the lives of many Maryland families.

This spring, in the final year of Governor Schaefer's administration, the General Assembly passed legislation that enshrines some of these reforms in law. The bill requires that departments share their dollars in ways that give local social services workers more flexibility to tailor services to each child or family's needs.

In other words, this legislation did more than tout reform, it required it. But since it got to the heart of the matter -- money -- some cabinet secretaries resisted the idea. As a result, the TTC governor considered vetoing the bill.

But to his credit Governor Schaefer discarded that notion, and last week he signed the legislation. Now, even if social services reform is not a high priority for the next governor, the new law will ensure that these efforts continue. That's a major step forward.

All too often, governors give lip service to reform, but fail to follow through. When that happens we all suffer. Children and families who need help get caught up in bureaucratic red tape, well-meaning workers get discouraged and taxpayers spend inordinate amounts of money to support inefficient and ineffective programs.

It's easy to talk about change; making it happen is more difficult. By consistently supporting reform -- and, especially, by signing the reform legislation last week -- Governor Schaefer has ensured that the progress wrought during his administration will outlast his tenure in office. As a result, Maryland's needy will have a brighter future.

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