Closing Hickey

October 02, 2005

WHEN GOV. ROBERT L. EHRLICH Jr. stood outside the fence at the Charles H. Hickey Jr. school on June 30 and announced that most of it would close, we expected he had a plan for the children usually housed there. But two months before the big day, it's still a mystery where the hundred or so children will be placed.

There are not enough slots in current programs to take them. There are not the right kinds of programs available locally that could help all of them. There is no extra money set aside to build or buy facilities or programs.

With no state alternative to Hickey - and none on the drawing table - the Department of Juvenile Services has no option but to send dozens of its most difficult children to private facilities in Texas and elsewhere. There's no extra money for that, either.

DJS officials keep repeating that the department has a plan. But judges, legislators and others in a position to know say that's not the case. Private service groups, advisers and advocates who are trying to work with the department on the transition say they can't find out the basics - such as what kind of services DJS wants for its wards and roughly how many kids will need each service.

It's past time for the aged, violence-prone juvenile facility to be shuttered. Generations of Maryland children have been ill-served - and many badly beaten - during their time there. But to offer nothing to replace it - as well as to ask the department to reinvent itself without giving it money to do so - also ill-serves children.

DJS should spell out its plan, including numbers of children, what services they need and where they will be getting them. It should set a date to bring the children placed out of state to programs near their home communities. It should be clear on how much all this is expected to cost and how the state plans to pay for it.

Dismantling is the easy part. Ask any kid.

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