Scrutiny urged for group homes

State attorney general calls for youth home directors to keep closer tabs on finances

Baltimore & Region

September 21, 2005|By Jonathan D. Rockoff | Jonathan D. Rockoff,sun reporter

Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. said yesterday that his office would help ensure that the boards of directors at group homes for troubled youths provide proper supervision of care and spending.

He recommended that state officials issue a public report card for each of the 500 group homes licensed by the state and seek to uncover abuses by comparing spending by the homes with their budgets. He also suggested hiring more state inspectors.

"We have to make sure [the youths living in the homes] are served well," Curran, a Democrat, said in an interview. He said he was acting at the urging of lawyers in his office who work with the state agencies that license and monitor group homes.

The state system oversees 2,700 youths, including foster children, medically fragile youths and juvenile delinquents. Its annual budget of $167 million includes federal and state funding.

In April, a series of articles in The Sun reported that state regulators failed to properly monitor the homes, allowing for mistreatment or neglect of children without consequences. Many group homes employ unqualified or poorly trained workers, including some with criminal records, the articles reported. The series also documented instances of financial self-dealing by home operators.

Sen. Ulysses Currie, a Prince George's County Democrat who chairs the Budget and Taxation Committee, said yesterday that he is talking with the Ehrlich administration and attorney general's office about establishing a work group to develop a reform plan.

Arlene F. Lee, executive director of the Governor's Office for Children, said that the Ehrlich administration supported a work group, although she reaffirmed its opposition to consolidating state oversight into one agency - a key proposal of reformers.

Curran also recommended that group home board members be given training on their fiduciary obligations, and he urged the drafting of a law, modeled after a federal anti-fraud statute, that would hold boards responsible for the actions of the homes' owners.

The proposals were made as Currie's committee concluded the last of three hearings on group home regulation. The committee heard about model programs in other states that provide a range of services to the youths and link state funding to progress.

Lee told the committee that the Ehrlich administration is engaged in a comprehensive review of the group home system and developing several improvements. One idea, she said, is awarding contracts to facilities providing services in counties that need them.

"I just don't see the number of people to adequately oversee these homes," Sen. John J. Hafer, a Republican from Western Maryland, said at the end of the hearing. He attended on behalf of the Finance Committee.

jonathan.rockoff@baltsun.com

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