Md. foster care faces challenges

August 23, 2012

Shalita O'Neale and the Maryland Foster Youth Resource Center deserve much praise for their work to assist youth to prepare for life after foster care ("Preparing foster teens for life," Aug. 20). "Ready by 21" is just one of a number of initiatives implemented by the Maryland Department of Human Resources to improve its services to foster youth since Ms. O'Neale's time in care.

Ms. O'Neale is also to be commended for publicly acknowledging that a group home provided much needed stability and helped her find herself. In that regard, she fared better than many youth in out of home placement. While certainly not a family in the traditional sense, the dedicated and caring employees at the Board of Child Care gave Ms. O'Neale the opportunities and the tools necessary for her to be successful in school, at work and in life.

Today, as the result of DHR's improved ability to reunite children with their families or place them with kin, foster or adoptive families, only a small percentage of youth in out of home placements reside in group homes. In fact, the number of youth placed in group homes has decreased nearly 60 percent in the past five years, and over 100 group homes have closed in that time.

Unfortunately, the youth who still require group home placements today have very challenging needs that can't be met in family settings. Yet as Maryland's group homes are left to handle the youth with the most challenging needs — and the state's regulatory requirements have steadily increased — group care reimbursement rates from the state have been frozen at the same level for the past five years. Private treatment foster care and independent living rates have also been subject to the same rate freezes. Current providers are operating at huge deficits which jeopardize their ability to continue to provide high quality services.

At the same time Maryland celebrates its improved ability to prepare youth for successful exit from foster care, it should not continue to shirk its obligation to fully fund the cost of caring for the most vulnerable youth still in placement.

Shelley L. Tinney, Columbia

The writer is executive director of the Maryland Association of Resources for Families and Youth.

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