Divided authority leads to murky responsibility

April 10, 2005|By Jonathan D. Rockoff and John B. O'Donnell | Jonathan D. Rockoff and John B. O'Donnell,SUN STAFF

Maryland's oversight of group homes for children is complicated by the numerous agencies that play roles - some overlapping. One result is poor communication among offices, according to interviews and a review of licensing and monitoring records.

Anyone interested in opening a group home applies to the governor's Office for Children, Youth and Families, which reviews the materials and decides which of three departments will license the home.

The three departments, Human Resources, Health and Mental Hygiene, and Juvenile Services, contract with owners of the homes. The departments' inspectors oversee compliance.

Inspection schedules differ among departments, and so does the interpretation of regulations on hiring, training and care.

The three departments have another responsibility: placing foster kids in group homes and monitoring their care.

At Human Resources, this duty is carried out in 24 local social services offices by caseworkers who often don't share concerns about a child's group home with colleagues responsible for inspections. Caseworkers and inspectors in separate departments communicate even less.

The departments that place children pay for care. But the Interagency Rates Committee, which is staffed by the Department of Education, sets rates.

By the numbers

330: Group homes in Maryland

140: Companies that run those group homes.

2,700: Approximate number of children in group homes statewide.

3 to 5: The usual number of children living in a group home.

$60,000: Average annual amount the state pays for care of each child, with rates sometimes as high as $200,000.

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