Foster care concerns heard

Advocates say state moving too slowly

May 21, 2008|By Lynn Anderson | Lynn Anderson,Sun reporter

Advocates for better foster care say they are worried that the state is not moving fast enough to find new foster families and move away from group homes, which critics say cost more and do not always meet neglected and abused children's needs.

A status report released yesterday by Advocates for Children and Youth says that since June 2007, the state has gained 89 new families. The Department of Human Resources, which oversees foster care statewide, set a goal in November of signing up 1,000 new families by 2010.

Department of Human Resources Secretary Brenda Donald called the report premature. She said her agency only introduced the recruitment program in January and started advertising on the sides of buses this month. She said she doesn't t know what recruitment efforts the previous administration undertook.

"I think the advocates jumped the gun a bit," Donald said. "Give us a chance. This is a top priority, and we are moving forward."

Still, advocates expressed concerns, saying that at the rate the state is going, it might not meet its goal. Without an influx of new foster families, especially in Baltimore, which has the most children in need of temporary shelter, the state would have to continue placing children in group homes.

"The slowness of improvement is particularly disappointing," said Ameejill Whitlock, child welfare director for Baltimore-based Advocates for Children and Youth.

The state recently increased monthly foster care payments as an incentive to get more families to participate. Those payments are scheduled to increase by an additional $100 a month per child in July. Payments in Prince George's and Charles counties will increase by an additional $140 because of competition with Washington, which pays more to foster families and places some children in Maryland.

The state has also restored child care reimbursements for foster children up to age 5, but there is no financial support for before- and after-school care for older children.

Advocates say the state might have to change that policy if it hopes to make meaningful strides in its recruitment efforts.

Donald said four counties - Washington, Kent, Dorchester and Cecil - have met their 2010 goals. Kent County has more foster families than it needs and is willing to open those placements to children from other Maryland counties, she said.

"It is quite early to be evaluating the effectiveness of our campaign," she said.

lynn.anderson@baltsun.com

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