Gaps monitoring foster children noted at hearing

School, therapy progress unchecked, legislators told

January 30, 2003|By Jonathan D. Rockoff | Jonathan D. Rockoff,SUN STAFF

Lawmakers grilled state officials yesterday about monitoring the progress of foster children in schools, in psychological therapy and in substance abuse treatment.

"You clearly have an inability to track how the kids are doing. Maybe it's time to look at another system," said Del. Robert A. Zirkin, an Owings Mills Democrat, who plans to propose legislation to address the gap.

State officials from the agencies dealing with foster children in group homes said they check regularly on the places where the children live, but acknowledged that they don't follow how they are doing otherwise.

"That's a direction we'd like to move in," said Steven Sorin of the Maryland State Department of Education, which sets the rates that group homes are paid by the state for taking care of children.

The questioning occurred during a hearing of a House Judiciary Committee panel looking at the licensing, oversight and standards for group homes.

According to a 2001 study, 1,760 children lived in group homes away from their families for reasons of abuse, neglect or juvenile delinquency.

Baltimore County has a high number of the more than 250 group homes statewide. Community leaders, police and educators in the county say they need more help from the state to serve the children, many of whom have severe emotional needs requiring extra attention.

In 2001, a task force commissioned by Gov. Parris N. Glendening found that state agencies, which place foster children in group homes, held the facilities to different standards and didn't communicate enough with each other.

The commission made a number of recommendations, including centralizing licensing and monitoring of group homes in a single office, certifying administrators of group homes and developing a database on all group homes.

Bonnie A. Kirkland, special secretary of the Governor's Office for Children, Youth and Families, told the House Subcommittee on Juvenile Law that the recommendations were being implemented, but tight finances limit what can be done.

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