Child advocates settle with state

Compromise allows regular inspection of city building used to shelter foster kids

December 24, 2005|BY A SUN REPORTER

Child welfare advocates and state social services officials reached an agreement yesterday to let the advocates check on a state office building in Baltimore where foster children have been housed illegally overnight.

The agreement permitted advocates - including attorneys who monitor the city's 7,000 foster children as part of a long-standing consent decree - to make a visit yesterday afternoon to the city Department of Social Services intake office at 300 N. Gay St.

The deal was reached hours after the advocates filed a motion in federal court demanding immediate access. On Wednesday afternoon, they were barred from entering the building to see if children are spending the night there and, if so, whether they are receiving proper meals, toiletries and medical attention.

"This is a good compromise that will help ensure kids get the protection and services they deserve," said Gary Posner, an attorney who has helped represent children in the federal lawsuit.

Under the agreement, and after yesterday's visit, the advocates will be given access to the building at least every other month. If they believe they need to inspect more frequently, they will be able to work with a mediator assigned to the lawsuit to schedule additional visits.

"The good thing about this is that we were able to work cooperatively together to reach an agreement," said Norris West, a spokesman for the Maryland Department of Human Resources, which operates the city social services department. "No one wants the children staying overnight in the building, but when you don't have enough shelter spaces, sometimes the situation happens."

Since the operation of the shelter in the office building was disclosed in June, social services officials have said they're trying to find additional options - but they have expressed frustration that local service providers have not stepped forward. Advocates say DSS hasn't done enough to encourage proposals.

More than 100 children have stayed overnight in the office building, according to advocates. West doesn't dispute that figure but says that the average stay of a child at the Gay Street office building is 4.3 hours.

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