Better homes

April 24, 2006

Legislation approved by the General Assembly this month that will beef up state oversight of some 500 group homes and establish strict performance standards, among other requirements, is a sound measure that should help protect foster children in these homes and get them better services.

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. will sign the legislation into law "with great enthusiasm," according to the Governor's Office for Children, and no wonder. The state's 2,700 foster children deserve to be safeguarded from the unchecked neglect and mistreatment many suffered at the hands of unqualified or poorly trained workers employed by the homes. Under the old system, state regulators routinely failed to properly monitor the homes and rarely revoked the licenses of badly performing homes even though they had authority to do so.

The new law will require group home operators to sign contracts specifically outlining obligations that they are expected to meet. Failure to do so can result in revocation of the contracts. The law will also require state officials to locate group homes where they are needed, and not just tolerated, and to give home operators financial incentives to spread the facilities around the state to reduce oversaturation in northwest Baltimore County and elsewhere. This move would also ostensibly keep the children closer to their families and diminish resistance and resentment in communities where the homes are concentrated.

Del. Dan K. Morhaim, a Baltimore County Democrat who sponsored the legislation, deserves credit for his efforts to get this forward-looking measure through the state legislature and onto the governor's desk - while building consensus for it among community groups, state agencies and key legislators.

Last April, a Sun series outlined how state regulators' failure to monitor group homes led to foster children being harmed, workers with criminal backgrounds being hired, and millions of dollars being mismanaged. The new law goes a long way toward permanently ending the old way of doing things.

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