New programs for Hickey youths called inadequate

Treatment, other needs won't be met after closing, advocates, ex-officials say

July 01, 2005|By Jonathan D. Rockoff and Stephanie Desmon | Jonathan D. Rockoff and Stephanie Desmon,SUN STAFF

Many of the programs that will take in the juvenile delinquents scheduled to leave the Charles H. Hickey Jr. School over the next several months lack the ability to adequately treat them, child advocates and former state officials said yesterday.

While the state will be able to find beds for them, it won't be as successful finding programs able to meet the drug treatment, mental health and other needs of the youths, the advocates and former officials said.

"You're just asking for trouble," said Earl El-Amin, who kept an eye on the Hickey School and other Maryland facilities as part of a state independent monitor's office before leaving late last year to join a company running group homes.

Under a plan announced yesterday by Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. to address longtime problems at Hickey, the worst and most-violent offenders detained there will go to locked facilities, perhaps out of state, said LaWanda Edwards, a spokeswoman for the Maryland Department of Juvenile Services.

The rest - those who committed such offenses as armed robbery, stole automobiles and sold drugs - will be sent to private institutions, group homes or returned to their families or communities, Edwards said.

They will require mental health therapy, tutoring, job training and other services, the advocates and former officials said. They suffer from substance abuse, anger problems and other issues.

Many of the dozen advocates, former state officials and industry leaders who were interviewed lauded the move to close the Hickey School. Yet, they also said that many of the 500 privately run group homes in Maryland lack the skilled staff to handle the youths and that only a limited number of programs provide quality counseling and other needed services.

"What you're going to find is the same problems you had at Hickey will be scattered now," said Calvin Street, a former deputy secretary for programs at the state Department of Human Resources, which licenses most group homes in Maryland.

"Just as [the state] didn't have the capacity to monitor these kids and make sure they got what they needed in Hickey, [the state] won't have the capacity now," Street said.

Legislative analysts say the state has 41 inspectors - five at the state Department of Juvenile Services - to monitor group homes. The provision of intensive family services in Maryland has declined 48 percent in the past 18 months, according to Advocates for Children and Youth, an advocacy group.

Montgomery County, however, recently contracted to provide mentoring, family counseling and other services, and nonprofit groups in Baltimore are looking to expand their services, said Jim McComb, director of the Maryland Association of Resources for Families and Youth, an industry trade group.

And state officials pledged at a meeting yesterday with private program administrators to develop the range of programs required to meet the needs of the Hickey School youths, McComb said.

While McComb praised the governor's decision, he also described the Nov. 30 deadline as ambitious for putting in place all of the services the youths will need. "They can't close the Charles Hickey School without creating the options," he said.

Linda Heisner, a former DHR official and now deputy director for Advocates for Children and Youth, said Ehrlich must provide more money to fulfill his goals, which she estimated would cost more than $30 million.

Moving delinquents from large institutions to smaller facilities or their communities is a national trend. Yet the governor's decision to transfer some to group homes comes as lax state oversight of the homes is drawing scrutiny.

"A lot needs to happen with group homes to ensure they're providing the services they're supposed to be providing," said Edward T. Kilcullen Jr. of the Court Appointed Special Advocates Association. "We have a long way to go."

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