Punished for doing right

July 05, 1995

The irony in the plight of New Pathways, a private agency that helps older foster children make the transition to adulthood, is that it is being punished for doing what it was supposed to do.

State social service agencies have been referring to New Pathways young adults who have had troubled childhoods, including some who have been arrested before or have abused drugs. But New Pathways lost its state funding last weekend because a handful of its clients with criminal pasts have gotten in trouble again despite the program's efforts.

The suspension of the $1.5 million state allocation for New Pathways might be understandable if it is supposed to strictly supervise its clients to keep them straight. But it's not.

Through minimal supervision, the agency is supposed to get young adults to make the right decisions for themselves, the same types of decisions they will be making on their own in a year or two when they are too old for foster care eligibility. That some of the program participants proved incapable of making good decisions is no surprise.

But when members of the state Board of Public Works saw television reports last week implicating some New Pathways participants in assaults and car thefts, they decided not to give the agency its allocation this summer. Because of that decision, the agency must now fight to survive.

Since 1985, New Pathways has been putting 18- to 21-year-olds in apartments and helping them learn how to take care of themselves. The program was designed to place young adults in situations less restrictive than foster homes or foster care centers. There were curfews and unannounced visits from counselors, but the point was to help these young people learn to be on their own.

The program worked. Since 1993, New Pathways has had 121 clients and only 18 have repeated delinquent behavior. Of the 51 young adults in New Pathways now, only four were identified as troublemakers. The welfare of the other 48 participants didn't seem to matter to the Board of Public Works, even though 22 of them are in school, 10 are holding good jobs and 13 are both working and in school.

The TV report about the four problem cases prompted the board to order an analysis of all alternative foster care programs. But it is only New Pathways that is having its allocation suspended.

A better course would have been for the board to keep New Pathways going while it determined whether the state should have any minimally supervised foster care programs for young adults about to leave the system. Instead the board chose to disrupt 48 young lives unnecessarily.

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