Gov. Martin O'Malley will push to allow the Department of Juvenile Services to share information about children in its care with other social agencies - something now prohibited by state law.
The governor's bill, which he plans to announce today, would lift the parental consent requirement that hampers even simple communication. For example, when a youth is arrested, Juvenile Services workers cannot make a phone call to social services workers to see whether the child is in foster care.
"Kids and families suffer as a consequence of poor communication," said Juvenile Services Secretary Donald W. DeVore. The proposal "is consistent with the governor's desire for agency transparency and information- sharing."
The Department of Juvenile Services would still operate under strict confidentiality rules. But DeVore said it is crucial to remove the parental consent barrier when it comes to talking to other child welfare agencies.
"Many of these children have no parents," he said. He said more than 60 percent of youths under Juvenile Services supervision started out as Department of Social Services wards, victims of parental abuse or neglect.
Human Resources Secretary Brenda Donald, whose agency oversees social services, said O'Malley's proposal would help her workers "have a better window into a child's life."
"We all want to work together instead of in our respective silos," she said. Her agency is permitted to share information with Juvenile Services without parental consent, as long as it is "for the purpose of providing services" to the youths.
Restrictions on information-sharing can cause financial and practical problems, Donald said. Instead of using a mental health assessment ordered by Juvenile Services workers, social services workers must order a second mental health assessment - costly to the agency and stressful for the child - because of the privacy law.
The prohibition has been a particular roadblock in the Washington area, said Tammy Brown, a Juvenile Services spokeswoman. She said 71 youths under supervision in Maryland have Washington addresses, but the agency cannot tell Washington-area juvenile services workers about those Maryland arrests. A new arrest can trigger a probation violation, but only if a probation agent knows about it.
The governor said in a statement that he is "committed to ensuring that our most at-risk youth have access to vital wrap-around services that will allow them to be successful." He also said that allowing state agencies to share information will help improve public safety.
The initiative, along with all of the governor's other legislative proposals, is expected to be introduced by Monday. O'Malley has said he will sponsor a death penalty repeal bill and a proposal to make it unlawful for state police to conduct surveillance on peaceful groups. A similar but slightly broader proposal to restrict police surveillance is to be unveiled by a group of lawmakers today.