Saturday Mailbox

SATURDAY MAILBOX

April 23, 2005

Officials ignore group home ills for far too long

The Sun's recent series on "Maryland's Troubled Group Homes" (April 10-13) tells a story that had to be told to bring public attention to a problem that many public officials have known and done little about for far too long.

In interviews with private providers, advocates, children and their families and others, reporters Jonathan D. Rockoff and John B. O'Donnell discovered conditions that led in 2001 to establishing the Task Force to Study the Licensing and Monitoring of Community-Based Homes for Children.

This task force produced credible recommendations that were all but ignored.

It was an awareness of the failure of our child welfare system to protect children, including those who live in group homes, that led to the establishment of the Task Force on Child Welfare Accountability, which issued recommendations in December.

The scope and seriousness of the problem is known. Practical concrete solutions have been offered. Maintaining higher standards and ensuring effective monitoring are achievable objectives.

What has been lacking is focused and effective leadership.

We hope policy-makers will now make the safety and well-being of children in residential placements a priority.

Several of the articles and a companion article about San Mar Children's Home acknowledged that there are many good group homes ("For troubled teens, `a second home,'" April 13). Sadly, however, the articles represent the proverbial brush that painted all policy-makers, public agency administrators and private group home operators alike.

Thus The Sun's articles may have the unintended consequence of diminishing the good work being done by many group homes to help the most vulnerable and troubled of our children get back on track with their lives, making this work harder than it already is.

Despite the inappropriate use of public funds by a few opportunists, most group homes struggle every day to make ends meet.

Like most states, Maryland does not spend too much to protect its children.

But we can do better, and there is a large community of legislators, advocates and providers of high-quality residential care for children eager to support efforts to make needed reforms.

Jim McComb

Delores Kelly

Arnold

The writers are, respectively, the executive director of the Maryland Association of Resources for Families and Youth and a state senator who represents Baltimore County.

Accreditation is key to improving care

The San Mar Children's Home is a ray of hope amid the pervasively demoralizing system of assistance to children in this state ("For troubled teens, `a second home,'" April 13).

What makes the difference between a place such as the San Mar facility and most of the others referred to in The Sun's recent articles?

Executive Director Bruce T. Anderson deserves commendation for his professional and devoted leadership.

Apart from cloning him, it seems clear that accreditation by the national Independent Council on Accreditation makes a critical difference.

Requiring such accreditation of all group homes would be a significant step and perhaps the simplest solution for a state where numerous governing bodies overlap but, all in all, show little to no true responsibility for the proper and humanitarian care of our most needy and troubled children.

Ingrid Castronovo

Timonium

The writer is a retired clinical social worker.

Treat gun violence as a criminal issue

Here we go again: Another "let's get creative" approach to attacking the problem of gun-related violence ("Treat gun violence as a health problem," Opinion

Commentary, April 18).

The author, at one point, seems to indicate a need for education, which is a good thing. However, when the National Rifle Association advocates for gun safety recognition courses in our schools, it is often excoriated for having sinister intent.

The author wants to tighten up on the gun sellers, the gun manufacturers and the environment in which guns are used.

There is nothing new here. However, one thing that is interesting by its absence is any mention whatsoever of the criminal who uses a gun. But that is standard procedure for the anti-Second Amendment people; everyone is responsible for gun violence - the manufacturer, the dealer, society, law-abiding gun owners - everyone but the criminal who pulls the trigger.

Gun manufacturers are making quality products; they are not making dangerously defective products. To extend their responsibility to the end use of their product is preposterous.

Similarly, if any gun dealer is willingly selling firearms to "straw" purchasers, or otherwise proscribed purchasers, that dealer should feel the full brunt of the law.

Until someone wakes up and gets serious about criminal behavior, and the fact that there must be consequences for criminal acts, not only gun violence but all violence will continue to be a problem.

Also, I wish people would stop trying to draw an analogy between guns and automobiles

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