Needless Knee-jerk Reaction

July 15, 1995

The state Board of Public Works went too far with its knee-jerk decision to suspend funding for a foster care program that helped young adults make the transition to living on their own. True, some of the New Pathways participants had been involved in crimes, but the board shouldn't have made all suffer for the actions of a few.

Since 1985, New Pathways has been putting young adults in apartments and providing "minimal supervision" that allowed them to learn how to take care of themselves. Now the agency finds its future jeopardized for doing what it was supposed to do. Its mission was to place 18- to 21-year-olds in situations less restrictive than foster homes or foster care centers. There were curfews and unannounced visits from counselors, but these young adults were learning to handle being on their own.

Since 1993, New Pathways has served 121 clients; only 18 went astray. Of the 51 young adults in the program now, only four have been identified as troublemakers. But those four were featured in TV reports that sparked the Board of Public Works' decision. The other 48 participants didn't seem to matter to the board, 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 bad apples prompted the board to order an analysis of all alternative foster care programs. But it is only New Pathways that is having its $1.5 million allocation suspended. That means at least 12 New Pathways participants will have to leave the apartments that are their homes, while six case workers and three support staff persons may have to be laid off.

A better course would have been for the board -- Gov. Parris N. Glendening, Comptroller Louis L. Goldstein and Treasurer Lucille Maurer -- to keep the New Pathways program going while they determined whether the state should have any minimally supervised foster care programs for young adults about to leave the system. Instead they chose to disrupt 48 young lives unnecessarily, largely because of what they saw on TV. There was a hearing on the matter recently, but to all appearances the board had already made up its mind.

Maybe New Pathways should have provided stricter supervision. But would that approach teach participants to be more responsible for their behavior? Perhaps New Pathways shouldn't accept state referrals with criminal pasts. But won't these young people then end up on the streets as a greater menace to society and themselves? These questions need to be answered. But that could have been done without closing New Pathways and disrupting the lives of young people who have already faced more than their share of life's troubles.

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