Children's reprieve

June 17, 2005

GOV. ROBERT L. Ehrlich Jr.'s order last week restoring part of the office that coordinates the work of the state's child welfare agencies and monitors juvenile detention centers is a good short-term solution. But the office shouldn't have been in danger.

The failure of a bill to renew the office - preceded by too little discussion about its role and the role of the local boards whose fates also were tied to the bill - cast the state's child welfare apparatus into a swamp of uncertainty. Mr. Ehrlich's solution - keep everything the same, but leaner - will tide the state over through the year. It must be revisited next legislative session, however.

The local boards, which decide where to spend money for community-based programs, must not again be threatened. And the monitors, whose work often irritates those in power, mustn't forever serve at their pleasure.

Critical state government functions, such as coordinating care for children and their families, should be set in statute, not driven by the whims of the legislature or any governor. The reconstituted children's office, with a new director, has another six months to show the legislature that it fulfills a vital role, and should be given permanent footing.

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